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Bob Mills

4444 Derwent Dr

Roswell GA 30075

770-402 1947

RobtMills@

Words 122,606

Ms Pages 481

TYCOON!

a novel by Robert A. Mills

“The theater has long provided a home for misfits—adventurous strays and loners who find asylum in each other’s company. It is not just the common search for fame and fortune or even fantasy that draws them all together. It is also the need for family.”

A. Scott Berg

PART ONE

FREDDIE LASSITER

PROLOGUE

“You know Lennie McCarthur?” Wally asked, and his tone was incredulous, jumping up half an octave with enthusiasm at his good fortune.

“Sure,” Carson said. “How do you know Lennie?”

To Wally Emerson, running into Johnny and Joanna Carson in TWA’s Global Club at Chicago’s O’Hare was as remarkable and exciting as it was unexpected. The illustrious TV personality and his wife were sitting in a corner of the room with Suzanne Pleshette and another gentleman Wally assumed was Mr. Pleshette.

It was close to five-thirty, and the young man from Buffalo had already had too much to drink on the flight from BUF to ORD. He approached the foursome cautiously in the dimly lit and ornate lounge, now, at this early hour, nearly deserted; the foursome seemed to be swimming, or at least floating, in a flash flood of cigarette smoke.

“I simply have to intrude and say hello,” Wally gushed, leaning toward the television icon and extending his hand. “I saw you all sitting there, and I’d hate myself if I passed up an opportunity to say hello.” He started to say I watch you every night, but thankfully the line, stuck in a sudden depository of common sense and never came out.

Carson turned from his wife and looked up; there was no hint of annoyance in his demeanor. He glanced at Wally’s extended hand, and instead of transferring his drink from his right to his left, which was holding a smoldering Camel, he sat the highball on the table in front of him and shook Wally’s hand. “No problem,” he said, his tone as gracious as it was familiar. “This is my wife, Joanna. And this is Suzanne Pleshette and Tim Gallagher.”

Wally nodded to Joanna Holland Carson, mentally noting what a ravishing beauty she was, and he shook Tim Gallagher’s hand. When Suzanne Pleshette smiled, her teeth were dazzling; for a brief moment Wally wondered, should a decision have to be made, which of the two women would he declare more gorgeous? As he shook Gallagher’s hand, it occurred to him how gratifying it was that Carson did not brush him off and tell him, as perhaps he should have, to get lost; neither had ever set eyes on the other.

“My name is Wally Emerson, from Buffalo—I’m really sorry to bother you—come on like, you know, some sort of tourist or clochard, uh, or something—” ‘clochard,’ Jesus, what kinda word is that to use on a guy like Johnny Carson!—“but I’ve been watching you on TV a hundred years, Mr. Carson, I mean, I’m on my way to Los Angeles—I’m on TWA 14— maybe we’re all, all of us, are on the same flight . . .”

“I don’t think you’re such a bum,” Carson shrugged and glanced up at Tim Gallagher, admitting to Wally he obviously knew what the word ‘clochard’ meant. “I don’t know about the flights, though,” he said; “I doubt it. I don’t even think we’re on TWA. This lounge was the closest . . . What flight’re we on, Tim?”

Wally looked over at the taller, darker man, an athletic and handsome matinee idol-type who sported a razor-thin moustache and lacquered hair that was parted dramatically and precisely in the middle, and Wally assumed he was quite prim and British, as though he had just come from the set of a Peter Brook film at Pinewood Studios. Gallagher reached inside his jacket and drew out a sheath of tickets. “We’re on—let me see—United’s 5 at three-oh-five.” Gallagher placed his cigarette in the corner of his mouth and continued examining the flight documents and boarding passes; Wally was impressed that the smoke going up Gallagher’s nose seemed not to bother him at all. “These are a little screwed up,” Gallagher said, his accent more Corpus Christi than Salisbury Plain. “They’ve got you and me in One-A and B, and the girls in Two-A and B!”

Wally did not know that Tim Gallagher was Suzanne Pleshett’s husband, but he did notice that Joanna Carson was the only one not smoking. Although it was common TV Guide information that Johnny was rarely without a lit cigarette, Joanna had never smoked and could barely tolerate the habit in others; although there were many who did not, in Hollywood, smoke at movie and television studios, a person who did not was as singular and unique as—Gene Autry’s smooth, unblemished, dome-shaped and dexter hat that was still pristine after a choreographed barroom brawl.

Carson did not go so far as to pat the sofa cushion and invite Wally to sit down, but the younger man moved gingerly around the coffee table and perched on the hard edge of the divan, next to the genial Carson.

“Do you really know Lennie McCarthur?” Wally asked again.

“Sure,” Carson said. “How do you know Lennie?”

“He was on my TV show a few weeks ago. The Shrine Circus was in town, and McCarthur was a featured act. He came on the show as part of the usual hype, and I got to spend a lot of time with him. Helluva guy.”

Carson smoked his cigarette and sipped his drink. “Yes, he is. Probably the best cowboy stuntman and double in the business. . . . You have a TV show?”

“Yeah. Just staff stuff on a local outlet.”

“Buffalo?”

“Yeah.”

“Hmm. Well. McCarthur’s a super actor in his own right. . . . He actually came on your show?”

“Yes.” Wally nodded, with naive zeal. “I’m gonna see him when I’m out in California. We’re going to get together and maybe have dinner.” The young man began to talk faster. “You know Terry Powell?”

“The soap opera actor?”

“Yeah.”

“Not personally. May have met him a couple times.”

Joanna Carson said, “I know Abby, his wife. They live in Brentwood.”

“Really?” Carson looked over at his wife, and his eyes narrowed as if he was momentarily perturbed she had interjected.

“Yes,” Joanna said. “They hang out a lot with Brian Donlevy and the Edmond O’Briens. They all live in a row in Brentwood.”

Wally was not sure what she meant. His first image was a row of tenements, á la Philadelphia or Cleveland. Somehow, Carson, no longer peeved at Joanna, if in fact he had been, picked up on Wally’s blank facial expression and asked, “What do you mean, sweetheart, in a row?”

Joanna shrugged, as if an explanation was superfluous, and Suzanne Pleshette answered for her. “You know, houses all on the same street, side by side . . .”

“Oh!” This made Carson laugh. “You mean, like all different houses, homes, but side by side on the same street?”

“Right. You know what I mean.”

“Yeah—I gotcha!” Carson looked directly at Wally. “So—you’re going to see Terry Powell and Lennie McCarthur while you’re out on the Coast. . . . Good for you. . . . May I ask why?”

The question sent Wally’s thoughts in a different direction. “Why?”

“Yeah, why?” Carson said it as if he really wanted to know. “I mean, why would you go all the way from—where? Buffalo?—to see a couple guys you don’t even know—I mean, well, just barely?”

Tim Gallagher answered for him. “How do you know he doesn’t know them, Johnny? Jesus. Maybe they’re all buddies. You don’t know.”

Wally shook his head and looked at his drink. “No—Johnny’s, uh, Mr. Carson’s right. I never even met Terry Powell. A guy I work with used to work with Terry’s brother in New York, at NBC, I think—Peter Powell’s his name. He told me if I was ever in LA I should look up Terry.”

“Peter did?”

“No, the guy I work with in Buffalo. He got Terry’s number from Peter in New York, so I called him up and talked with him just yesterday. He, Terry, he told me to call him when I got to LA.”

Carson lit another cigarette. “So between Lennie McCarthur and Terry Powell you’re going to be a busy beaver this week . . . right, Mr. Emory?”

Before Wally could correct him that his sur name was Emerson, not Emory, Joanna said, “And actually, John, it’s really none of our business.”

Suzanne Pleshette agreed. “But I think it’s absolutely marvelous someone is coming out to Hollywood finally and knows someone to—to say hello to. Most people come out here and don’t even know where the studios are. I think it’s marvelous.” Her voice was an alto saxophone down which some prankster had perhaps poured several gallons of single malt Scotch whisky, laced with a duffle bag of nicotine.

“Actually,” Tim Gallagher wanted to know, “why are you coming out to the Coast? What’s really in the back of your mind, if I may ask?”

The question was unfair. Wally, sitting now on the sofa beside Johnny Carson, leaned back against the faux-leather cushions. The nimiety of cocktails notwithstanding, he wished he had a full vodka/tonic, and he momentarily thought of offering to get fresh drinks all around, for everyone; but getting up and moving away to the bar would surely terminate the entire event, leaving this area of the TWA Global Club forever empty of his illustrious celebrities. How often could a very minor television news-weatherman-announcer-type run into a gregarious and receptive entertainment icon—two, actually—who with seeming grace and genuine interest tolerate an abrupt intrusion in a quasi-public place? Good question, Wally thought; nobody at WNGD, Buffalo was going to believe this, anyway.

1

Wally Emerson, at twenty-eight, was a charismatic and talented local celebrity with a highly inflated, solipsistic sense of his own immature persona. His first job, almost right out of high school, was at a small radio station in the outskirts of Buffalo: WBFY. It was a small, independent and relatively insignificant operation, at 590 on the AM dial, a station that was on the air from sunrise to sunset only, sustained by 250 directional, erratic watts—erratic because there were at least a hundred hours annually when the transmission was interrupted, diminished, or non-existent. There was another radio station at 590 on the dial, a certain WIRI located near Providence, Rhode Island, and WBFY was required to signoff daily at sunset to avoid a collision of signals that would result in an overlapping cacophony of static, indiscernible babble, and wavy music. WIRI had precedence over WBFY, having an FCC license approximately a year older.

FM was in its infancy, and in Erie County that year, there were less than a hundred useable FM sets. The management of WBFY, however, was aware there were few, if any, regulations governing operation of the innovation; they were accidentally shrewd in deciding to broadcast on FM each night from the moment the station was forced to sign off AM. In Western New York, in the Eastern Time Zone, this meant that AM might disappear as early as 5:30 PM in the winter and be replaced by FM until bona fide signoff occurred—usually sometime around midnight. Had it not been for FM, Wally might never have become a leading local broadcasting personality.

The want ad in the Buffalo Evening News was deceptive: Local radio station seeks fulltime, highly personable, aggressive staff member for specialized assignments. Call for immediate interview. WBFY 354-5921.

Wally, then just twenty and a genuine arriviste, was on the phone first thing in the morning; a day later, at the appointed hour, he was in general manager/program director Huffner ‘Huff” Denton’s WBFY office in downtown Buffalo, on Elmwood Avenue.

“If I take you on, you might be the youngest account executive,” mused Denton, fingering the stems of his rimless glasses, “ever hired by a radio station in America.” His vatic tone seemed more prophetic than profitable.

And it would not have been entirely true. Huff Denton himself, just a decade earlier, had been hired at the age of nineteen by a small Missouri station of no greater importance than WBFY. Now, at twenty-nine, his hair already salt-and-pepper and his waistline inflated four sizes larger, Denton was on a fast track to broadcast management that would eventually see him at KFO in San Francisco before arriving at age thirty-seven and achieving his second divorce.

“Account executive? . . .What’s that?”

“Salesman. You know,” Huff Denton asserted, his demeanor of acute acedia belied by his posture of malignant indifference, “time salesman.” If Wally had been an athlete, he would have seen Denton as a rigorous and focused coach—tall but poorly proportioned with narrow shoulders and wide hips. Somewhat effeminate, Wally mused; he could never have taken the man seriously: get in there, kid, and score one for . . . who? . . . the Gipper? Was he fucking nuts!

Wally shook his head. “Sell what?”

“Time.”

“Time?”

“Yeah. You know. Spots. Commercials. Programs. . . . The stuff we get paid for to put stuff on the air.”

Wally exhaled and blew out his checks. “You mean—like sponsors?”

“Yeah. You got it. Sponsors!” Denton reached for a pad on his desk and pretended to make some notes. His hands were small and—delicate. Girls’ hands. “That’s what account executives do. You go out and get people to sign up for spots, commercials, shows—you know—they sponsor stuff like shows, like the news, the sports, baseball, hockey—the opera.”

Wally was silent for a moment, taking it all in. Then, “What actually kind of job would I have here, assuming I was hired?”

Denton flipped the pad back to his desk, and it hit the blotter with a flat rifle report that made Wally’s right leg jump. “What kind of a job you looking for?” the station manager asked.

“I don’t know. Announcer. Disc jockey, I guess . . . Announcer.”

Denton shook his head and for the first time Wally noticed he was balding. “Yeah, well, you got a great voice, but . . . no. Not here. I need a time salesman.”

“Your ad—”

“Yeah. Like it says, looking for special assignments—somebody to go out and drum up new business. Special . . . assignment. That’s what a special assignment is.”

Wally slumped back in his stiff chair. “I wouldn’t know where to, where I’d begin. . . . I’m no salesman. I don’t even know how you sell radio time.”

Huff Denton smiled in spite of himself, remembering his own first radio job. “A no-brainer,” he said, “kid stuff. I give you a rate card, a broadcast schedule, and an order book. A few sample commercials—hell, you read those samples in a good radio announcer voice like you already have, and every store on Elmwood Avenue will wanna sign up! Spots are only a dollar apiece, and you can buy fifteen-minute news or sports shows for ten bucks. Spots in the ball games are a dollar-fifty—shit, you can sponsor a whole inning for three-fifty or four bucks! This is the easiest get-rich job you’ll ever have in broadcasting! Chrissake, kid, whaddaya want? Egg in your beer?”

The following Monday morning Wally Emerson began his broadcasting career as an account executive at WBFY: fifty dollars a week guaranteed against a ten percent commission, a new plastic briefcase with gold-embossed call letters, a sheath of commercials, a rate card, a schedule, and a pad of two-page contracts divided by virgin carbon and containing three-quarters of a page of mouse-type legal print and one-quarter for price and specifics. “Where do I start?” Wally asked, searching in the briefcase for business cards.

“Right outside the door. Start right up Elmwood Avenue and hit every business between here and Breckenridge Street,” Denton told him. “Just go in and tell ‘em you’re from WBFY, and they oughta advertise where they’ll be heard and get rich. . . . I ordered business cards for you—you want Wally or Wallace?”

“Wally.”

“Well—you’ll have ‘em in a couple days. Just hit the stores!”

“Cold-call?” Wally asked.

“Yep. Just stay away from ‘protected agency’ accounts.”

“What’re those—and how do I know if they are or not?”

Denton shrugged. “You can tell. If you never heard of them before, they’re ripe for the pickin’.”

Cold-call was the understatement of the year. It was February, and Wally did not—nor ever had—owned a car. After three unsuccessful walk-ins—a shoe repair shop, a tinsmith’s, and a barber shop—he ducked into the Elmwood Theater against a wind that pierced his forehead like a bent nail and watched Robert Taylor and Deborah Kerr in Quo Vadis. For two hours and fifty-one minutes, with a Clark bar and a box of Junior Mints, Wally Emerson was warm and content.

“Whadcha sell today?” Huff Denton asked, when he returned to the studio at 5:37.

“Nuthin.”

“Well, tomorrow’s another day.”

That night it snowed, and it continued snowing all morning. By noon, there was over a foot of new, wet snow on the ground, and Wally went into Weinstein Jewelers, stomping gray slush off his goulashes in thick clumps onto a mat adorned with an ornate W, just inside the door. The store was empty except for a young clerk behind the narrow counter.

Weinstein Jewelers was smaller than a hole in the wall: it was a sliver, a skinny opening between a dentist’s office and a soda fountain. The counter, behind which there was barely room for one salesperson, ran along only one side of the north wall; it was glass topped and glass fronted for about twelve feet. The other wall, along the aisle, hosted framed posters of beautiful women and handsome men wearing gleaming watches and rings; and there was room for two people, customers, to move side-by-side in front of the abbreviated glass counter. At the far end of the store was a partitioned workroom behind a flat wall with a swinging door and a small, square glass window, from which the store could be observed by the gem-cutter, watch repairer, and master jeweler—or whoever labored in the back while not serving the customers our front.

“Christ, it’s cold out there!” Wally remarked, brushing chunks of snow off his mackinaw sleeves.

The young clerk, rotund and balding and wearing a loupe attached to his heavy shell-rimmed glasses, glanced up and nodded. He was coatless, his dull string tie neatly pinching his chunky neck, and the sleeves of his brilliant white shirt were rolled up to his elbows. “Yeah. Sure is. . . . Can I help you with something?”

“Yeah, I need to talk to the owner,” Wally said, dropping his briefcase on the counter top. “Is there a Mister Weinstein?”

“Yeah. There’s me. Julius Weinstein.” His voice was a nasal trumpet squeezed through a bulbous nose, and the word “me” blared out in B flat above middle C. What hair he had left at twenty-six was plastered flat to his wide dome above a clear, pasty face.

“You ownna place?”

“My dad. He’s, uh, rarely here this time a day, though.”

“Oh.” Wally looked down at the items in the counter-case. There was an array of Hamilton, Bulova, Gruen and Lady Elgin watches, all dazzling and looking expensive in the concentrated light that came from the fluorescent tubes hidden from view under the glass, along the top edge of the case. Next to the watches were three or four trays, a mass of rings with diamonds and sapphires and black onyx; a whole row of signets with Mason and Elks logos; next to those were bracelets and earrings. “You got a lot of stuff,” Wally said.

Julius nodded, and his loupe slipped down; he quickly unclipped it from his glasses and removed it with pudgy fingers that didn’t look as though they could orchestrate the delicate melodies of exquisite gems and watch springs. “Somethin’ for everybody,” he smiled. “You getting married?”

“Me? Nope—already did that. Last year,” he added.

“Oh. You look too young.”

“Yeah.” There was a pause in which Wally rehearsed in his mind what he was going to say next. Then: “You folks ever advertise on the radio?”

“Us?” Julius shook his head. “Radio ads’re too rich for our blood. We ran some ads in the Jewish Ledger couple months ago. That where you saw us?”

Wally shook his head. “I’m Wally Emerson,” he said, “from WBFY. They’re making up new business cards for me, but I haven’t got ’em yet. I’m what they call an ‘account executive’—what I do is place stores like you in radio spots so everybody in Buffalo knows about you when they want to buy jewelry. . . . You wanna buy some radio spots?”

Julius picked up his loupe and held it like a telescope as he looked at Wally. “This makes you look upside down,” the jeweler said, “like you’re standin’ on your head. Hah! And you might as well be!”

“Radio spots are only a dollar a minute,” Wally blurted out quickly. “You can get twenty for eighteen dollars—or a whole newscast or sports show for ten bucks. We got Bison baseball on FM, or Slasher’s hockey, or an opera, or . . . or popular music in the afternoon with Glenn DiTavi—“

“What station you with?”

“WBFY.”

“Never heard of it.”

Wally unwrapped his woolen scarf from about his neck, unzipped his mackinaw, and let the plaid scarf roll nonchalantly in columns along his arms. “You’re probably in the majority,” he said, under his breath, “the vast majority. . . . But that’s why you can buy a bunch of spots for a dollar each and be heard by thousands of loyal listeners. Wanna hear how you’ll sound?”

Not waiting for an answer, Wally opened his briefcase and withdrew a sample commercial beneath a tab labeled ‘Jewelry Stores.’ He cleared his throat and looked back to make sure no one was about to come in; in his best audio image of how an announcer would sound, cupping his ear with his left hand, he started:

It’ll soon be Valentine’s Day, that time of year again, the time when a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts how best to please his lady with the gift of a new diamond bracelet, or perhaps that watch she’s always wanted—maybe, it’s that time when he will drop to one knee and ask her the age old question: ‘will you be mine?’ The master gemologists at Weingarten’s—

“Weinstein’s,” Julius Weinstein interrupted.

“Huh? Yeah, right—Weinstein—isn’t that what I said?”

“No. You said Weingarten . . .”

“Oh. I thought I said ‘Weinstein’.” He took his hand away from his ear and flicked the script with his forefinger. “Says ‘Weinstein’ right here.”

“It does?”

“No,” Wally laughed, “I’m just making it all up. Let me finish: When you purchase a ring, a watch, earrings, a bracelet, or even a pearl necklace from—Weinstein’s—you know you’re getting a fine piece of exquisite jewelry from a family owned and operated store that stands behind every item it sells. Our Hamilton watches, for example, are guaranteed accurate and reliable for five years, but at Weinstein Jewelers, all our watches and diamonds are guaranteed for life!”

“How did you know that?” Julius, his eyes widening, wondered.

Wally slipped the sample script back inside its folder and closed his briefcase. “It’s something everybody in Buffalo needs to know, needs to hear week in and week out on WBFY. How many spots you want? They’re only a dollar a piece.”

Julius hesitated and rolled the loupe around in his fingers. “I oughta talk to my dad first.”

“Surprise him,” Wally said, throwing his hands out in an all-encompassing gesture. “Shit, this is all gonna be yours someday, anyway, Jules. . . . Whaddya say?”

“How much is a fifteen minute Sunday sportscast?—Right after the baseball game?”

“Ten bucks, once the pre-season starts. May go to twenty after opening day, unless you lock it up. You get a fifteen-second open and close and two full minute spots. All for ten bucks.”

Julius appeared to be making mental calculations. “How many Sunday games?

Wally shrugged. “I got no idea. At least twenty . . . I think.”

“You the sportscaster or announcer on the commercials?”

“Both,” Wally lied, smelling a sale.

Julius puckered his lips and took charge of his destiny. “Okay,” he said. “Deal.”

“What about your old man?”

“What about him? He’s gonna kill me. I’m a dead man. My blood is on your hands. . . . What’s your name again? ”

Wally sat across from Glenn DiTavi and watched him closely. Glenn, twenty-five years old, the dapper and clean-shaven chief announcer at WBFY, studied his script and his FCC log and acted as if Wally were not in the room. Wally studied the mole on DiTavi’s left cheek, just northeast of his upper lip. The mole seemed to move effortlessly even when the announcer was not announcing.

“How much do you make?” Wally asked.

DiTavi looked up. “What?”

“How much you make?”

“None of your fuckin’ business.”

Wally shrugged. “Just askin’.” The younger man already knew, but he enjoyed asking questions he had the answers to and would embarrass the other person. This was a tactic he would employ in later years when interviewing politicians and show business and sports celebrities, a ploy that would make him one of the highest paid local broadcasting personalities working in a minor market. Thelma Patterson was WBFY’s record librarian, and she passed out the paychecks every two weeks. She had seen DiTavi’s often enough to tell Wally the disc jockey’s gross was sixty-five dollars a week. “That’s twenty-five dollars a week more than I make,” she confided, inhaling and exhaling, snorting, her large breasts not well hidden beneath a cashmere sweater two sizes too small; they rose and fell in unison when she spoke, and her voice was more breath than resonance. Thelma, her hair thick and black, hung in bangs over her forehead above glasses that were egg-shell pink and narrowly Oriental; she was single, nearly thirty, well built, sporting great legs, and she smelled of Cashmere Bouquet. Wally wondered who, if anyone that lucky, was banging her; twice he’d asked her out for a drink after work, and twice she had declined with an unconvincing “You’re married.”. Wally clapped his hands and held them up, palms forward, like a Las Vegas blackjack dealer finishing his shift. “It’s fifteen more’n I get,” he said. “And I’m out there on the street freezin’ my ass off while he sits in a warm studio and drinks free coffee.”

“Yeah,” Thelma confided, “life’s a bitch.”

“You can say that again!”

“Life’s a bitch,” she repeated; Wally was tempted to ask her out again, but he refrained.

WBFY, like all commercial stations in Buffalo, was a union shop affiliated with AFRA, the American Federation of Radio Artists, AFL/CIO. Announcers and all on-air personalities were paid according to a contract negotiated between the station and the union, calling for a base salary with periodic increases, time-and-half overtime plus a stipend called “talent fees,” a set amount for involvement in commercial participation such as delivering spots, newscasts, sponsored play-by-play, and so on. WBFY’s contract stipulated full time staff announcers be hired for fifty-five dollars per week with raises every six months to a maximum of seventy-five dollars over the contract life of two years; talent fees ran from ten cents for each live commercial spot all the way up to a dollar for a news and/or sportscast. A workweek was based on forty hours at eight hours a day, minus a paid hour for lunch and/or dinner, for five consecutive days, and time and a half for overtime. Recorded spots—of which there were but a few—paid a residual of five cents whenever played.

Union membership was mandatory and required for a one-time initiation fee of fifty dollars plus dues of ten dollars a quarter for broadcasters with an annual income of less than twenty-six hundred dollars, which was ninety percent of the national membership. Network and major market personalities paid the same initiation fee, but their annual dues were astronomical, often as much as eighty-three dollars a month. No one really knew how much stars like Merv Griffin, Johnny Carson, and Ed McMahon paid.

Huff Denton was livid, and Wally wondered if he was suffering from total malaise. His face, behind his rimless glasses, was crimson either from anger or from the early stages of influenza, and he dripped sweat; droplets sliding off his upper lip and spraying forward as he spoke, caused Wally to imperceptively draw back in his chair across the desk. “Are you fucking nuts?” the general manager exploded, sending a shower behind the dysphasic “f” word.

“Shoot, I got the order,” Wally whined, defensively.

Denton stared at the young salesman and breathed deeply with a rasping effort that alarmed him. “I feel like shit,” he said. “I’m coming down with something. Can you drive me home?”

“I don’t have a car.”

“Shit. You can drive me in mine.”

Wally’s stock in self-esteem shot upward a thousand points as he slid behind the wheel of Denton’s convertible coupe, a ‘barter’ deal the station made with Cranberry Chevrolet in Williamson in return for free spots in the Bison’s baseball games. It was red and it was shiny; the odometer showed it had been driven only 837 miles. The top was up and Wally asked if Denton wanted it down. “It’s Feb’rary, for chrissake!” Denton mumbled and slumped against the door on the passenger side.

Wally didn’t care; it was not snowing at the moment; it was twenty-eight degrees, overcast and windy; he would have loved to put the top down. Of all the people on duty at the station, Denton had asked Wally to drive him home—he had his choice of everyone from Thelma Patterson (record librarian) to Lorraine Davies (switchboard) to Fred Roberts (comptroller) to G. Pace Leroy (sales manager and copy writer)—or even Glenn DiTavi, although he was on the air with his early afternoon show, DiTavi’s Melody Lane. Actually, another announcer, Sam Mortimer was on duty with nothing to do until the three o’clock news, a five-minute summary ripped off the AP Teletype and enhanced with whatever the local police contact offered by way of auto accidents, fires or burglaries. Wally considered it a mark of distinction and good fortune to have been chosen, and he saw it as superficies he was destined for serious achievement in professional positioning.

“Have it your way—Weinstein will cancel his order,” Wally said, “if I don’t do his sportscasts and commercials.”

“Let him. You ain’t even a member of AFRA.”

“I’ll join.”

Denton asked how much the order was for, and Wally told him: “Two hundred fifty for the exhibition games. Then two grand more for regular season home games.”

“Fuck me. Why’d you tell him you’d do the goddamn spots and stuff?”

Wally shrugged and the car skidded slightly. “Man knows what he wants. And he wants me.”

“Fuck me.”

Denton lived on the sixth floor of a building near Lafayette Circle, off Delaware Avenue. Following his employer’s gestures, Wally carefully drove into the unplowed driveway, went behind the apartment house and parked in a vacant slot off to one side. Denton got out of the car, sloshing through the slush that now qualified as hoarfrost, having dimmed the ground for several weeks; he headed toward a rear entrance as Wally rolled down the window, peeling fresh snow off the glass where it tumbled away from the sill.

“Thanks, pal,” Denton said, over his shoulder. “Leave the car here and go on back to the studio.” He turned and sloshed back. “Gimme the keys.”

“Wait. . . .You kidding? How do I get back?”

“Take the Delavan Street bus. Fuck me. I feel like shit.”

There were two Delavan Street city busses that circumvented Lafayette Circle, and Wally was not sure which one went downtown, number 34 or number 11. The first one to come was number 11.

“You go toward the Sheraton?” he inquired before boarding.

“Not ‘less they moved the Albright,” the driver snarled. “You comin’ er not?”

Wally waited for Number 34, which did not appear for another for twenty minutes, and by then it had begun to snow again; his stomping and turning away from the wind did little to stop the cold from penetrating his mackinaw and goulashes.

“Jesus,” he told the driver, dropping a dime and a nickel into the change box, “”I’m freezin’ my ass off. My feet’re numb.”

“Yeah,” the driver agreed, as disinterested in Wally as he was in the weather.

With the snow now falling rapidly along with the temperature, and slush coagulating on the street as cars and busses trudged by and churned it up, it was nearly two forty-five before Wally made it back to the station. Too late to start cold calling, he left his winter garb on his chair in the sales office and slipped quietly into the warm studio where DiTavi was working his show.

“Newscast in ten minutes,” the disc jockey said, without looking up. “Keep it down, or screw outta here.”

A record was playing—Jo Stafford’s ‘Shrimp Boats’—and DiTavi was pretending to eye-proof a commercial script. An engineer named Lester Erskine sat in an adjacent room separated from the studio by a wide window protected with air-locked, double-tempered glass. Erskine sat behind an audio console, barricaded on each side by massive turntables, and behind him was an intricate monster contraption, an early predecessor of a recorder, capable of cutting high-quality wax platters ‘live’ from the studio. The engineer, a dour and lanky egghead of thirty, a member of NABET, the National Association of Broadcast Engineers and Technicians, was responsible while on his shift for every sound emanating over the quartz transmitters of WBFY AM/FM; and as such, considered himself the executive producer without portfolio of DiTavi’s Melody Lane.

“Keep it quiet in there,” he admonished, over a small intercom, watching Wally as the salesman scraped a chair across the floor and sat down opposite DiTavi.

“Yeah, yeah.” Wally sighed, as if Erskine could hear him, which he could not while the studio side of the intercom, controlled by a toggle in front of DiTavi, remained off.

“What’s wrong with Denton?” the disc jockey asked.

“I don’t know, probably the clap,” Wally muttered. “Anyway, he’s hors de combat for now. I took him home.”

“He’s what? A whore? . . . How’d you get back?”

“Bus.”

“What a prick. . . . He said this morning you sold the sports wrap-up shows after the ball games. Weinstein’s Jewelers.”

Wally nodded. “Yeah. Whole season.”

The record ended and DiTavi flipped another toggle close to his right hand, and his mike was hot. An ON AIR sign illuminated over the window between the studio and the control room, as well as over the outside door to the office area. DiTavi leaned into the mike, and his voice was a seductive, sexy, breathy baritone snarl:

“That was Jo Stafford on Columbia with her mega hit, Shrimp Boats Are A-Comin’. It’s two fifty-six, and this is Glenn DiTavi on Melody Lane at WBFY with all the hits from today, tomorrow and yesterday. After the news with Sam Mortimer, we have another full hour to go with tunes by Frankie Laine, Patti Paige, Vic Damone, and many others—but first. . . .” He waved his finger in the air.

Lester Erskine hit a button in the control room and a Louis Koch Lager Beer commercial filled the airwaves; DiTavi switched off his mike.

“Huff says you told Weinstein you were doing the shows and his commercials.”

“Yeah, that’s right.”

DiTavi slid his chair back. “You know, I’m the fucking chief announcer around here, and I say who does what and when.”

“Yeah . . . I know.”

Sam Mortimer came into the studio, the three o’clock news in his left hand and a lit cigarette in the other. He was a small man with thin, sandy hair; he had a mole, a cyst really, on his left eyelid. Wally thought he looked like a pirate who should wear a patch. “Screw outta here,” he said. “I’m on in thirty seconds.”

“My office,” DiTavi signaled to Wally.

The issue of who would perform Weinstein’s Sports Wrap-Up and the jeweler’s commercials was settled with one phone call to the tiny store on Elmwood Avenue. Wally made the call from DiTavi’s cluttered cubicle, and Julius Weinstein answered the phone.

“You can tell your boss,” Weinstein said, loud enough for DiTavi to hear, “if you don’t do my stuff on the air, he can blow his nose with the contract. I signed up for you or nobody. I told my dad and he agrees—you’re the one we want.”

Wally, aware there was no logic behind this other than unfounded preferences and rank amateur superiority, mentioned that Glenn DiTavi was in the office with him and he was the chief announcer.

“The what? What’s a ‘chief announcer’?”

“I don’t know,” Wally said. “It’s a union thing—he’s got seniority.”

“Yeah? Well, good for him.” Weinstein paused to think it through. “But I’m the sponsor. Either you report the sports, do my show, or I cancel. . . . Who’s the boss? Me or what’s-his-name?”

“Actually, Huffner Denton’s the boss. But,” Wally added quickly, “he’s out sick.”

Weinstein picked up steam. “He’ll be a lot sicker if he gets a call from Harvey Glick. What kind of a name is ‘Huffber’?”

DiTavi mouthed who the fuck is Harvey Glick? Wally translated into the phone: “Who is Harvey Glick?”

“Our attorney!” Weinstein snapped. “Glick’s my dad’s lawyer—he’ll sue your station to kingdom come for—breach of contract, or something! You sold me—I bought those shows because you said you’d be the announcer, and that’s what I heard and that’s what I want—expect. I’ve been listening to your station ever since you came in here, and I don’t want that Glenn DiTavis or any of your other assholes . . .”

2

Geraldine Emerson was Geraldine Furk before Wally married her. A bride at seventeen, a groom at nineteen, Geraldine and Wally came to the altar with no lasting credentials other than increasingly proficient, frequent, and uncontrolled sex. The word ‘concupiscence’ was barely adequate.

“I’m baby sitting tonight for the Collinses,” she had told Wally one Friday between classes at Lafayette High. “They won’t be home till after midnight.”

“What time their kids go to bed?” he wanted to know.

“They only got one, name’s Charlie,” she told him. “He’s two—down by eight.” She spoke quickly, excited, in a sort of faux quarterback cadence: One—two—eight!

That spring Wally was almost seventeen and a junior; Geraldine was sixteen and a sophomore. Wally would graduate next year, and Geraldine would not return for her junior year. That Friday night Wally would lose his virginity.

The young couple had met a few months before, while roller-skating at the BST rink in downtown Buffalo. Wally, no better a skater than Geraldine, found the 3 to 5 PM Saturday ‘open-to-the-public’ session a social opportunity for donning wooden rollers, making two or three leisurely, non-threatening turns around the state technical college’s rink, then sitting on a stool or at a group table to drink Coca-Cola and munch stale popcorn, while handsomely adorned in the perfunctory sleeveless Argyle sweater, pegged trousers, and black rental skates firmly laced up and ready for action. Of course, the action Wally and his cronies sought had nothing to do with the skates they rented or the smooth hardwood floor that made up the huge and brightly lit arena.

When Geraldine Furk sidled up to the refreshment counter that Saturday afternoon in a pleated taffeta ‘poodle’ skirt, all Wally, already a dyed-in-the-wool movie buff, could think of was the immortal line Lee Bowman had uttered to Susan Hayward in Smash-Up, the Story of a Woman: “You come here often?”

“Huh? What?” Her response was anything but an Academy Award rejoinder, but Wally didn’t care. What stood before him was a youthful Aphrodite, a post-pubescent with huge, high-pointed breasts and firm, smooth white legs above the confines of beige roller boots. Young Ms Furk was the repository of all known genes embodied in the American ideal of ‘the girl next door.’ Thanks to Gloria Jean, Doris Day, and Judy Garland the testosterone of Wally’s psyche neither heard nor saw the shallowness of Geraldine’s vague education and general unawareness, and he would live to regret the vacuum she inhabited that would soon suck him into its breathless abyss that awaited only his evidence of carnal desire. When he eventually met her parents and siblings, he should have immediately understood what substandard associations would do to one of his unusual talents, but by then his libido was captive and he was helpless to act upon them. Geraldine Furk had an IQ only a point or two above her family’s; theirs was barely recordable.

Bernard Furk, the father, was approaching his mid-forties, and he still maintained the same position as a parts distribution ‘packager’ at Ford Motor Company, a job he had held since he had dropped out of high school at fifteen to go to work to help support his family of six that had been deprived of a father who had been killed in France in World War I. In 1931 Bernard had married Inez Mooney, a brainless, buxom girl he had known in grammar school, pregnant with the first of their four daughters—Geraldine—and for the next quarter century Bernard never missed Friday night bowling with the Carbon Rings, a team which met after the obligatory fish fry dinner: ‘Ball & Chains Welcome.’

The basement recreation room of the small house he and Inez owned on Auburn Street was replete, within its knotty pine walls and asphalt tile floor, with gleaming, dust-free bowling trophies. Pudgy, ruddy, out of shape, and usually out of breath, his iron-gray hair a bristle board, a brush-cut atop a football-shaped head as many as three inches too large for his squat, 199-pound frame, Bernard Furk, at least to Wally, was a caricature of the typical Buffalo Polack who married his childhood sweetheart, had four to eight children, worked a lifetime union job in heavy industry, made $1,800 a year, owned a home he had bought for under eight thousand dollars, carried a thirty-year mortgage for fifty-nine dollars a month, never owned and could not drive a car, got drunk on New Year’s Eve at the annual bowling party, voted Republican, and tithed the local Roman Catholic diocese dutifully every Sunday. That was Bernard Furk—except he was not Polish. He was Irish.

To Wally’s mind, that was even worse.

Within days after graduation from Lafayette High, Wally turned eighteen and dutifully registered for the draft, the very morning after Geraldine informed him she was pregnant. “That’s impossible,” Wally said, waving his hand in naïve dismissal.

“I’ve missed two periods,” Geraldine calculated. “I never missed before. What am I going to tell my father, for God’s sake?”

At Draft Board No. 57, as he filled out the registration form, he responded No to the query Are Your Married? In the space next to Have You Ever Been Married? he wrote: I am engaged. My fiancé is pregnant. I [sic] getting married in September.

To his genuine surprise, his draft card, received fifteen days later, indicated he was classified 3-A. He telephoned Draft Board No. 57 and spoke with a clerk named Eric Bortz who sounded only slightly older than Wally.

“What does 3-A mean, exactly?” Wally asked.

“Same as married with one kid,” Bortz told him, matter-of-factly. “I wouldn’t worry about it. You won’t get called for a physical till you’re 1-A. Shit, there’s no war going on, except for that Korea stuff. Why don’t you go to college? You can get a 4-B deferment.”

Wally shrugged. “Wish I could. Folks haven’t got any money, my grades are crap. My girl friend’s knocked up.”

“Oh.”

“She wants to get married in September.”

“Oh. You wanna marry her?”

Wally paused and looked at the tips of his fingers holding the phone. “Sure. . . . Yeah, I guess so . . . I think that’s what I have to do.”

“You shoulda used a rubber.”

“I did.”

“Trojan or Cyclops?”

“Trojan.”

“Pre-lube with a reservoir tip?”

“I don’t know.”

“How long?”

“How long what?”

“In your wallet. How old was it?”

“I don’t know. Six months maybe.”

Bortz laughed. “No wonder she caught a hot one.” He said good-bye and good luck, and it would be twenty years before Wally had any further contact with the Selective Service Administration—it was then he was told they had no file on him. Either it was lost or he had never registered there.

The wedding that September, on a Friday night, was a small affair held in the chapel of a neighborhood Methodist church. It was officiated by the Reverend Thomas Lamphere, a young Youth for Christ evangelist whom Geraldine and Wally had heard on the radio, and whom Wally had telephoned after one of his shows: To speak to Reverend Lamphere or one of his Youth for Christ team leaders, simply call 487-4321 right now, and your name will be added to our prayer list. The Reverend Lamphere actually answered the phone.

“My girl friend and I are getting married,” Wally told him, “and we’d like you to conduct the service.”

“Sure,” Lamphere said. “Where?”

“I don’t know. At your church, I guess.”

“Yeah. Well, I don’t actually have a church of my own. Is there any Christian churches where you live?”

“I guess so. . . . There’s a United Methodist church on Delavan Street, nearby.”

“Yeah, I know that one. Pastor named Kennedy. I’ll cal him.”

Wally cleared his throat. “How much do you charge?”

“I don’t know. You saved?”

“What?”

“You know: born again?”

“I—yeah, I, uh, was—am.”

Lamphere hesitated, then: “Kennedy’s going to want ten or fifteen dollars for the church. You got a pretty good voice. You come on my show and testify, give a testimonial—I’ll write it for you—and I won’t charge anything to marry you guys. You got a singer, any music picked out?” Wally told him no. “Good. I’ve got Helen Folsom and Patty Schnabel, great piano and vocals—they’re on my show all the time . . .”

Neither Bernard nor Inez Furk, nor Geraldine’s siblings, nor aunts and uncles, nor any of the Furk family attended the wedding, refusing, in deference to Bernard, to ever set foot in any Protestant church, even for a daughter’s nuptials. “Tough titties on them,” Geraldine said the day in July she packed her things and moved into a one-room apartment on Paddington Avenue. “They can kiss good-bye ever seeing this baby once she’s born, that’s for damn sure.”

Wally’s parents, Ned and Doris Emerson, were not pleased their only son was getting married at nineteen, but Ned did not do or say anything of consequence to aggravate the young couple’s determination; he waited for Doris to speak both their minds.

“That girl’s not for you,” Doris said, one night while Wally was helping with the dishes. “She don’t know her head from her elbow. You marry her, you’ll wind up just like her father—work all your life in a factory so you can go bowling with a bunch of drunks on Friday nights. And she’s gonna want you to turn Catholic and raise all your kids that way, too.”

Wally finished the last plate and threw the dishcloth over his shoulder. “That’s not true, Mom. She hates the Catholic Church and will quit soon’s we get married.”

“Yeah, sure she will. When things start to click for you and you move up, whaddya gonna to do when she has to, you know, meet people and boost you up? She can’t even carry on a conversation with small talk.”

Both Wally’s parents worked for Galaxy Grocers; they too had married as teenagers under similar circumstances and had worked full time for GG ever since, Ned as a butcher and Doris in the office above the Amherst warehouse. They had never owned their own home but rented half a house on Richmond Street where they had lived for over twenty years after Doris’ hysterectomy while Wally, an only child, was attending Sumner Elementary, Delavan Middle, and Lafayette High Schools.

“Where you people plan on livin’?” Ned wanted to know, suspecting the answer before Wally spoke.

“We thought we’d move in here, in my room, until we get, uh, situated.”

Doris asked, “You got any prospects for a job?”

Wally shook his head. “Geraldine’s making thirty-five a week at Delloraca’s Cleaners, and we figured we could give you ten or so—till we, uh, you know, get situated.”

Ironically, Wally did land a job in October, a sales position, straight commission, with the Stewart Society, a publisher who built crews everywhere to sell the 35-volume sets of the United States Encyclopedia , the Annuals of Accumulation, and the Geography for Everyone reference books door-to-door for $300—10% down and the balance payable at $9.95 per month for 36 months. Wally’s commission was $40 for each sale, and during the month of October he earned $800—more money than he ever imagined.

“This,” he told Geraldine, “is like shooting birds in a barrel. I drive out in the suburbs with Leo Cheney, my supervisor, and we look for neighborhoods with tricycles or sleds, kids’ toys, you know, swing sets, wagons in the yard, and all I do is ring the doorbell and ask ‘em if they want their kids to grow up on welfare.”

“That’s all?”

“Well, yeah, basically. You have to size ‘em up; find out how many kids they have, and how they’re doing in school, if they can afford the price of a pack of cigarettes a day to guarantee their kids’ education. You know.”

Geraldine was skeptical and played devil’s advocate, pretending she had kids of her own. “How you know they’re int’rested in their kids’ education, give a damn how smart they are?”

“Well—what parent isn’t?”

“Well, I’m not.”

Wally reached into his briefcase and showed her a stack of postcards. “We get these referral cards they cut outta magazines and send in. See? It shows their names and address and how many kids they got and what age and all that stuff. Leo gets these cards from the home office, and all we got to do is ring their doorbell ‘round dinnertime and show ‘em what the U.S.E. can do for them. If I make three pitches a night, I been averaging a sale a day! Man, that’s two hundred bucks a week! My ol’ man doesn’t make near that much!”

“Wow. Mine either. That’s pretty darn good!”

“Yeah. Way we’re goin’ we oughta start saving some real money.”

“Yeah. I got an idea,” she said. “Every time we screw or I give you a blow job, we put a dollar in a jar.”

Just before Christmas the young couple moved into their own place, a one-bedroom furnished apartment inside a private home on South Flower Street. It was an unusual three-room configuration just off the first landing, beyond French doors, at the apex of a circular staircase—up an additional three steps, then into the kitchen (sans sink)/dining/living room that offered two passageways, the right one leading to the bathroom (where the kitchen sink lived,) and the other to the left into the small, cluttered bedroom. For thirty dollars a month, including heat and light, Geraldine considered it unique, if not palatial or even practical.

The bonanza lasted until February, and, luckily, their savings resulted in a Mason jar stuffed with nearly 400 one-dollar bills. With the onslaught of a typical Buffalo winter in January, Wally found he was just as happy working less days and making less money. After Christmas, his production dropped to three sales a week, then two, then one—finally, in February, with a daily snowfall of four inches and temperatures rarely above fifteen degrees, he told Leo Cheney he would be looking for something else.

“Big mistake,” his twenty-three year old boss Cheney, a burly lumberjack of a man assured him, sorry as hell to be losing a 3% override. “It’ll turn around.”

“Yeah. Right. But I think you better include me out.” (A line he thought he’d heard Groucho Marx say on the radio.)

The next morning, a Sunday, Wally and Geraldine were in bed, spent and sweaty; he was perusing the want ads and she was struggling with the Funnies. Wally spotted the want ad for WBFY in the classifieds.

3

Geraldine’s insouciant, off-hand announcement that she was no longer pregnant left Wally numb with anger and resentment.

“F’chrissake—were you ever?” he choked, unable to swallow a bite of toast, unsure if he was relieved, deceived, glad or sad.

They were having breakfast at the Huddle House two weeks after Wally had started at WBFY, a celebration of sorts with his first paycheck, and he had just told her of his sale of the sports shows to Weinstein’s Jewelers.

“They want you to actually do the shows?”

“Yeah,” he nodded, sipping coffee.

“You don’t know anything about sports, especially baseball. . . . Do you?’

He laughed aloud. “Nope. But I can read the stuff off the wire just as good as DiTavi or Mortimer, even the sports guy. In fact, I got a better voice than any of ‘em. And if there’s a name I can’t pronounce, which is most of them, I’ll ask somebody.” He watched his wife, waited for her reaction, and when there was none, he thought how pretty she looked this morning and waited for her to tell him well he would do and how easy it would be for him to cover the ball games.

“How much you get for talent fees?” she asked, instead.

“Well, I spoke with Bob Bannister—he’s the union shop steward—and he told me as soon as my membership is in, I’ll be entitled to a dollar for each show, plus ten cents for each commercial. There’ll be two per show, so that’ll be a dollar twenty.”

“How many shows’ll you do?”

“One before and one after every home or away game, about a hundred sixty a year. Plus one every Sunday at eight-thirty on days we don’t play.”

“So,” Geraldine wanted to know, “how much is that gonna be, when you add it all up?”

“Well, I figured out at least seven hundred and twenty-five for the regular season. I’m not sure how many exhibition games they play, and then there could be recorded spots from time to time, especially for Valentine’s and Mother’s Day.”

“How much does Bill Stern get for doin’ sports?”

Wally shrugged with slight annoyance. “Stern works for NBC, I work for a little station in No Man’s Land.”

“Well, we better cut our savings down to fifty cents a shot.” Geraldine bit into a slice of French toast, dripping syrup onto her chin; she wiped it away with the small paper napkin. “Speaking of Mother’s Day, don’t plan getting me nuthin this year. I got my period couple days ago. I must have had a miscarriage or something an’ didn’t even know it. . . . Do you have to go in Sunday nights for just one sports show?”

* * *

Wally’s days as a time salesman were numbered even before Weinstein’s Jewelers’ first sportscast hit the airwaves. It was late February when Huffner Denton summoned him to his office.

“Sit down. I got bad news.” Denton had recovered from the flu, but his general demeanor had not softened. He still perspired heavily enough for his rimless glasses to fog up; he removed them several times while speaking and wiped them roughly with a Kleenex. “Jake Slone’s had a heart attack,” he said, his eye cast down for effect.

Jake Slone was the oldest, most experienced announcer in Western New York radio, and for the past three years he had held down the bulk of WBFY’s FM schedule from 5 PM until sign-off, even when part of his shift, depending on the time of year, overlapped into AM. Normally, he did the hourly newscasts, and then whatever was slated for FM: news on the hour, the nightly opera when there was no baseball or hockey game, and the Italian Vista on Sundays. His work schedule was Wednesday thru Sunday with Mondays and Tuesdays off. Unfortunately, he was sixty-one and sounded eighty-five, sort of an East Coast Andy Devine; were it not for AFRA, he would have been given a gold Bulova and a grand send off dinner at Laube’s Old Spain a decade ago.

“How bad is it?” Wally asked. He did not know Jake well, but he liked him the few times they had talked, especially when he regaled everyone in the newsroom with stories about his days in New York and Washington with Bob Trout, Doug Edwards, and Edward R. Murrow. After years at CBS, Mutual, and NBC, Jake had returned to Buffalo, his hometown, and when none of the major stations would hire him, using every reason they could think of except his age, he went to work at WBFY, who hired him at bottom-of-scale for the short-lived, but (to them essential) promotional value of his name. A newsman’s newsman, Jake Slone was a legend, and Wally had been impressed just working for the same station wise enough to employ him.

Denton said, “Bad enough. I don’t think he’ll be coming back—and if he does, he’ll probably cash in his chips during his shift and really fuck us up. His wife said it was pretty much massive, a coronary thromwhatever. . . . Shit. It’s always something. I’ve got to prepare, work up an obit—and probably a eulogy to give at the funeral. Shit. I hate that shit. Never a dull moment . . .”

“Damn shame,” Wally sighed. “I was hoping to get to know him better. Guy like that could teach me a lot.”

“Yeah.” Denton echoed Wally’s sigh, replacing his glasses, satisfied for the moment they were clear. “Well, it ain’t gonna happen. You want his shift? ‘Least till he gets back, if he ever does?”

Wally, suddenly tingling with excitement, did not want to appear anxious, but at the same time he wanted to make sure Denton was not going to change his mind, not that he was about to. “Is it okay with DiTavi?’ he asked, shifting uncomfortably because of the electricity pulsating through his groin.

“Who? Oh—yeah—what’s he got to say about it?”

Wally held his palms up and shrugged. “He’s chief announcer. You know.”

Huff Denton guffawed. “Hah! Yeah—right. . . . DiTavi can kiss my ass. Fuck him. I need somebody in there who can start right away. Tonight.” He glanced at his oversized Hamilton chronometer. “Three forty-five already. Can you throw a newscast together for five?”

“Sure!”

“You got no more sales calls to make?”

Wally started to get up. “Not now, not never.”

Denton held up his hand, palm forward, in the sit! stay! position. “Hold on. Let’s be clear on something. You can do the announcer thing, but I still want you out on the street from nine to four every day. I’ll raise you to fifty-five a week to keep the union happy, and you’ll still get your ten percent commission, but this announcer thing’s just, you know, temporary until we find out whether Slone’s, uh, gonna croak or get better, or, uh, something.”

Wally felt a hot flash of blood creeping under his scalp. “Shit, Mr. Denton, that’s nine in the morning till midnight—“

“Just Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. You’ll be off at five on Mondays and Tuesdays—“

“And I still work Saturday and Sunday?”

“Sure. Jesus. Regular shift, four to midnight. What wrong with that, for chrissake?” Begrudgingly, playing his last trump card, he added: “Plus you’ll draw another twenty for Monday and Tuesday sales stuff, on top of your ten percent. Shit, man, you’re gonna get rich! You’ll wind up makin’ more money’n me!”

Wally did not know it, nor had he a hint as to what the future would hold, but this was a defining moment in his life as a broadcaster. He wanted the job—so bad he could taste it, as Geraldine often said when she had to pee—and he knew that Denton knew how much he wanted it. The thought occurred, if he was being offered the job with an immediate start, WFBY was desperate, under the gun, with no one on staff or in the wings to step in and fill the gap left by Jake Slone’s sudden and unexpected misfortune. The part timer who covered the shift on Mondays and Tuesdays was a school teacher who taught high school English, who moonlighted as the WBFY relief sub, a fellow named Reggie Drake—his real name was Horace Schmuglar—and his natural abilities were more suited to proofreading at the newspaper than announcing in commercial broadcasting. But he was reliable and consistent, his voice was calm and mature, and he pronounced everything correctly; neither Denton nor DiTavi could stand him, and Wally knew he was not a threat. Drake was relegated to Mondays and Tuesdays because there was rarely, if ever, a baseball or hockey game on Monday; Tuesday was traditionally one of four weekly Italian Vistas, and that show was conducted by Francesco Fortunio, a local mortician and freelancer who relied on the staff man to read the news and do the commercials in English. If an opera was scheduled, all the announcer had to do was introduce the show (scripted) and read the liner notes on the back of the album cover as each recorded act unfolded. If any of the words were unpronounceable, Fortunio’s Italian/English Dictionary, which no one ever looked at, was at the ready. The staff was rounded out Monday through Friday with Charles Burgoyne and the Morning Show from 6 to 10 AM, Brunch and Lunch with Keith Trippy from 10 to 1 PM, DiTavis’ Melody Lane until 4, then Danny Driver’s Drive Tyme until 7—at which time Jake Slone or Reggie Drake took over until FM sign-off. There were three other newsmen on staff—Carl Hedges, Bob Bannister and Lou Bateman—and they shared newscasts all day. The play-by-play man was Clay Voight; he broadcast baseball from the stadium at home and re-created away games from the studio via the Teletype—as well as, similarly, all hockey games. Staff weekends were covered by Slone and Drake

“I can’t do it,” Wally said, and his voice was a blunted whisper.

“What!” Denton ripped off his glasses and reached for a Kleenex.

Wally, who had come to his feet, sat back down. Some ancient instinct inherited from a long departed merchant who possibly plied his drudge grubber trade on the docks of 18th century Liverpool rose inside Wally’s psyche, and he hastily said, “I’m the best you’ll ever get, and I can’t play games pretending I’ll remain the best if you think I can work hours like that. You can’t honestly expect anyone to be a salesman part time and a broadcast personality the rest of the time, and then be of any value as either.”

“Christ,” Denton whined, “broadcast personality. . . . I just said I’d raise you to fifty-five and pay you an extra twenty a week!”

“Forget it,” Wally countered as the electricity mounted. “I’ll work as a salesman and freeze my ass off, or I’ll cover Slone’s trick—but not both, not for twenty more a week, or two hundred. . . . Besides, you know as well as me, the union would never sit still for it.”

Denton played his last card—a weak six of clubs. “Who would tell them?” he asked, naively; Wally merely looked at him; he knew the next one to speak would lose. The better part of fifteen seconds went by.

“Fuck. . . . Shit. . . . Okay!” the general manager breathed, finally. “Which do you want?”

“Slone’s trick.”

Denton wiped his glasses a final time, replaced them on his feverish face, his head went back and he stared at the ceiling. “Okay . . . shit . . . but I ain’t gonna pay you talent fees for Weinstein’s plus a commission—and you gotta start tonight, you asshole. Can you handle that, you fuckin’ prima donna?

The young, new announcer gazed silently at the general manager and smiled.

* * *

Wally wondered if Geraldine ever had been pregnant. At no time since the wedding in September had she appeared to gain any weight. In fact, Wally thought she looked more svelte and trim now than she had last summer and autumn. There was no question Geraldine had a marvelous figure: soft and round and desirable from all angles. In December and January, he had felt certain she was about to “show,” and he admitted to her he was somewhat anxious for it to happen.

“Well, it’s all over,” she said that night, when he came home at 1 AM after his first shift as WBFY’s new nighttime announcer. “I saw Dr. Tucker today, and he told me to forget it; definitely no longer pregnant.”

Wally asked what had happened.

“I don’t know,” she sighed. “Guess I had a miscarriage, or sumpthin. I asked him if I should have a D and C.”

“What’s that?”

“I don’t know. You go in and they scrape you out in case there’s anything left. Shirley Stacey had one in high school.”

“What did he say?”

“I don’t know. We’d wait and see if it was necessary. You gonna be late like this every night?”

Wally suddenly felt depressed, and he wasn’t entirely certain why. For reasons he was at a loss to comprehend, Geraldine’s gravidity had been important to him. “When do you think you lost the baby?” he asked.

“I don’t know.” She looked at the ceiling and appeared to be thinking back. “I had bad cramps last week, then my period started. That must have been it.”

“Did anything, uh, come out?”

“I don’t know. I was sitting on the toilet when the cramps started. I wasn’t aware of nuthin.”

Wally was silent for a moment. “I wonder if it was a boy or girl?”

“I don’t know. Dr. Tucker said there was no way to tell now. I think it was going to be a girl—” She broke off, having exhausted whatever inanition she might have had. “Are we going to have to have supper early every night?”

“I don’t know.” Wally’s thoughts had wandered miles away, to a different place. A different time.

There was something magical, almost surreal, about a radio studio. Its entrance off the lobby was an air-locked passageway, a fifty-six cubic foot enclosure with two heavy wooden doors that opened and closed pneumatically and led to a room encased in perforated beige sound-tile on the walls and ceiling, and soft cork inlays on the floor. A huge window with four panes of inch-thick glass allowed people outside to observe the activity within, and another window, similar in construction but smaller, gave those within the studio visual access to the control room, and vice versa. A long desk where the announcer/disc jockey/newsman/play-by-play specialist sat was illuminated by dual fluorescent bulbs angled from a clamp-on lamp, providing an intimate aura around the performer that allowed him to concentrate on his activity without the burden of unnecessary distractions beyond his capsule of light. There were two sets of broad, recessed fluorescents in the ceiling, but they were switched on only when a newscaster was in the room and about to take over. A round clock larger than a pub’s dartboard was positioned on the wall facing the desk. Two leather lounge chairs and two folding steel “executive” chairs were scattered behind and near the desk. A high director’s stool of black plastic and bright steel legs was placed near the boom mike, and ‘director’s stool’ was a flagrant misnomer because it was said no program emanating from WBFY had ever required the services of a ‘director.’ The boom mike was used by anyone not wishing to sit at the desk. Three microphones were set up for the announcer/newsman and guests. One was a directional dynamic pedestal mount for the staff people, one a silver stand-up cardioid off to the side for guests and additional personnel, and the third was a boom compressed-directional that was suspended directly in front of the director’s chair and easily manipulated by the engineer in the control room. The only one controlled by the announcer was the pedestal mount that was connected to a handy ‘cough box’ toggle switch: forward was On Air, all the way back was a two-way intercom direct to the control room, and the center position was off, rendering the mike dead. The two speakers hanging from the ceiling would be heard only when the switch was in ‘neutral.’ The other two mikes were operated by the control room engineer and not under waivers by NABET. There was only one other technological marvel in the room: a cylindrical thermometer on the announcer’s desk that rotated beneath a stylus connected to a wire that was connected to a mercury gauge on the roof. The cylinder rotated on a spindle attached to a clock mechanism allowing the stylus to record the outdoor temperature on a graph that need to be replaced but once a month. It was a focal point in the surreal room; Wally had never seen anything like it. The executive offices were outside the studio, adjacent to the elongated record library sandwiched between a utility closet and the newsroom. The newsroom, directly across the hall from the studio’s main door, consisted of four desks with telephones, four manual Underwood typewriters, and two walls covered with Buffalo, Erie County, New York State, Ontario Province, and world maps. Behind a closed door in an adjacent anteroom were the two Teletype machines: AP—Associated Press—and UPI—United Press International. A third smaller unit fed data from the National Weather Service at the airport, except for times when the baseball team was on the road and games were re-created in the studio by Clay Voight from data transmitted from the press box in whatever stadium the club was playing.

It was on his third afternoon as he prepared for the 5PM news that Wally, standing in front of the clacking AP machine, watched the story unfold that would change his own personal course of history from that day forward.

4

WASH DC 022653 322P

RTJE WASH FCC ROTU JP

(AP) WASHINGTON THE FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION (FCC) THIS DATE GRANTED A CONSTRUCTION PERMIT (CP) TO VANGUARD BROADCASTING OF BUFFALO NY TO BEGIN OPERATING ON CH 11 TRANSMITTER SITE WILLIAMSON NY SUBURB OF BUFFALO. FHETY THIS WILL COMPLETE ASSIGNMENT THREE CHANNELS ERIE COUNTY. CH 11 OPERATED WGND INDIE CURRENTLY LICENSED LIBERTY BROADCASTING LIMITED SERVICE MUTUAL NBC. WGND STUDIOS OFFICES 284 MAIN STREET BUFFALO. CP TELEVISION BROADCASTING START DATE 01 NOVEMBER. LSAHA WASDC - 3O-

Wally tore the story off the wire, using a 24-inch steel ruler to separate it from the piece that followed, and he promptly folded and jammed the yellow paper into his shirt pocket. Coming out of the Teletype room, he collided with Glenn DiTavi.

“Watch it!” DiTavi grunted. “Watch where you walkin’, goddamn it!”

“Sorry. . . . Let me ask you a question—who’s the program director at WGND?”

‘How’m I supposed to know? . . Hold on. I think it’s Dick Butterworth. Whatta fuck you care?”

Wally moved away and around the chief announcer, careful not to step on his gleaming white bucks. “Just curious. I, uh, heard through the grapevine he’s wanted for drunk driving in Rochester.”

“No shit?” DiTavi was suddenly interested.

“Yeah,” Wally confided. “But don’t spread it around. Shit, could happen to anybody. Even you—me. Y’never know.”

Being late in the day, no one was in the darkened executive offices. Wally slipped inside as soon as he was certain DiTavi was no longer paying attention and could not see him; he closed the door and turned on the light. He was in Veep Jeffrey Lamb’s office, and he went quickly to the telephone, which he picked up only to hear the switchboard operator’s voice. Damn! “You still here, Mr. Lamb? I thought you left an hour ago—”

Silently, Wally cursed his luck. “Nooo, Lorraine, this is Wally Emerson. I, uh, need to make a personal call—you know—and, well, I wanted some privacy.”

Lorraine had been working in a local broadcasting studio for over four months now, and she knew, just knew, how it was with married announcers. Telephone privacy was sacred. “Oh, sure, I getcha. . . . Okay. . . . Not long distance, is it?”

“No.”

“Well, don’t make no mess in there. What number you want?”

Wally thought fast. “I need to call WGND. I got a news tip I need to check out and, uh, share with ‘em.”

“You want their newsroom?”

“No. Uh, just get me to their switchboard.”

“You know their number?”

“No. . . . Don’t you?”

“Shoot. . . . Hold on.”

Within a few seconds, Wally heard the ringing buzz several times before WGND answered. “Dick Butterworth, please,” he said.

“May I tell him who’s calling?”

“Wally Emerson.”

“Who?”

“From WBFY.”

Another series of ringing buzzes began, and it was a full minute before the phone was answered: “Butterworth here.”

Wally retrieved the AP story from his shirt pocket and smoothed it out on the desk in front of him. “Sir, you don’t know me—my name is Wally Emerson—I’m, uh, one of the announcers over here at WBFY—I, uh, actually, I’m calling you about your—construction permit.”

“What? . . . My—what?”

“Your, uh, construction permit.”

There was a pause at the other end of the line. “I don’t know—who’d you say you are?”

“Wally Emerson.”

“Yeah. Well. . . . What the hell’re you talking about?”

“Your—you know—your construction permit,” Wally repeated. “The AP story that just came over the wire. You know—your television station.”

“What? There was a story? On the AP wire?”

“Yeah. Yes, sir. There sure was.”

Butterworth was silent again for a long moment. Tentatively, Wally coughed and cleared his throat. “I got it—right here.”

“Read it to me,” Butterworth commanded. “Read it out loud.”

Wally looked down, cleared his throat again, and read off the Teletype in is best “newsman” voice and delivery. When he finished, Butterworth asked, “That—that’s what it really said?”

“Yes, sir. Verbatim.”

“Well, I’ll be damned. . . . What you say your name was?”

“Wally Emerson. From WBFY.”

“Yeah.” Butterworth was breathing heavily. “So . . . why you calling me? This is great news . . . but—what can I do for you? Why you calling me?”

Unable to keep the excitement out of his voice, Wally blurted, “If you’re going to have a television station, then hell’s bells . . .you’re going to need announcers—and newsmen and reporters and—and I don’t know what all—everything. If you’re hiring, I want to be first in line!”

“Hiring? Christ, I don’t even know what you’re talking about! . . Can you hold on a sec?”

Before Wally could respond, he heard the phone drop and Butterworth had scurried off. He was gone nearly five minutes. When he returned and picked up the phone, he said, “You still there, Willy?”

“Wally.”

“Yeah. Listen, we just got the story—musta been buried on the wire—yeah, listen, we really got the FCC permit to, uh, start a TV station! Listen, I—“

“So,” Wally jumped it, “you gotta start hiring a lot of people—“

“Yeah. Listen . . . we got people going crazy over here. We didn’t even know the FCC was this close to approving our app. . . . Can you call me back?”

Wally’s heart was racing. “When?”

“I don’t know. End of July; beginning of August. Christ, it’s going to take us six months to even think about our staff—and stuff like that.”

Wally glanced at the desk calendar by the telephone. Rifling through it, he came to MONDAY JULY 26. He picked up a pencil and wrote “Call Butterworth” below the date and tore out the page, folding it inside the Teletype paper, which he secured again in his shirt pocket. “Sure,” he said, “I’ll call you on July 26th. In the meantime—catch me on WGND. Like a long audition . . .”

Before he hung up, he noted that Butterworth had chuckled amiably at that last remark.

It was two months before July 26, a few days before Memorial Day, when Wally picked up Geraldine at Delloraca’s Cleaners to take her to lunch at the Cobble Grill down the street. He watched her finish up with a customer who had come in to drop off a large bundle of dry cleaning, and from where he stood at the end of the counter he could see how firm and sexy she was in her tight uniform, its skirt short to her knees, and clinging to her hips as if in some contest with the matching blouse to show off every crevice of roundness and voluptuous femininity. He made note of her new hair cut, the curled edges of ebony strands now clipped in ringlets around her ears and forehead—damn, she was cute! There was no other word for it. Cute. What was the cliché? Cute as a button! He wished he didn’t always think in clichés.

They had been in bed the night before and had just, for the past nine minutes, made love with an animal passion that was, in reality, no different from the last two year’s or last week’s love making. It was satisfying, but it was no longer satisfying enough—the effort was more tiring than titillating. Her young and smooth body intrigued Wally, and he wondered if this was what love truly was all about. Or was it simply an exercise in lust, pure passion and desire? He looked at her in the bad next to him, white and smooth; naked. Willing, compliant, easy—he knew without knowing how he knew that what he felt for her was not even remotely related to love. He would, had he his druthers, been with Thelma Patterson or any one of half a dozen young ladies he came into daily contact with at WBFY and other radio stations. As he looked over at Geraldine, he wondered if she ever had similar thoughts? In less than two days he found out.

The Buffalo Bisons were playing the Toledo Mud Hens at Lucas County Fairgrounds near Maumee, Ohio, and it had rained on and off all day. At the bottom of the third inning, Clay Voight leaned into the microphone and said, “That’s it, folks. The umpire has signaled to the grounds crew to bring out the tarps, and we’re suspended for at least forty-five minutes. Play has been halted here just outside Toledo at the end of the third—the Mud Hens are leading Buffalo 5 to 1. When play is resumed, we’ll be back with the top of the order center fielder Les Talbot leading off for the Bisons. In the meantime, I’ll be back with updates on the Ohio weather and a recap of tonight’s game highlights right after we catch up on the latest news and some recorded music. This is Clay Voight saying so long for now.” He signaled the control room and the studio was filled with a Louis Koch Lager Beer commercial: jingle, dulcet announcer tones, and pulse-pounding message. Voight looked across the room at Wally.

“Go take a break,” he said. “Be an hour before we get back on, if we ever do.”

Wally started to get up. “What about the records and stuff?”

“I’ll take care of it. I gotta keep an eye on the teletype, anyway. They may call the game, anyway. Bateman’s here for the news. If I need anything, I’ll grab him. Go get a drink at the Storehouse.”

“Gee, super!” Wally said. “I wanna run home, anyway, for a couple minutes.

“Yeah,” Voight chuckled, “I had anything like Glyndolin waiting for me—”

“Geraldine,” Wally corrected.

“Whatever. See you in an hour.”

The bus ride up Elmwood to South Ferry took less than fifteen minutes, and inside the apartment Wally could hear the water running in the shower. Standing in front of the toilet, he unzipped his fly and was about to relieve himself when he heard Geraldine giggle from behind the shower curtain. Then, a man’s voice: “Come here, you little witch. I wanna kiss you all over, soap an’ all!” Geraldine continued to giggle.

The executive secretary of the Buffalo chapter of AFRA was a young, bespectacled attorney name Manny Poppick; Wally called him the next day and told him he wanted to divorce Geraldine.

“Okay,” Poppick said, “but the only grounds in New York State is adultery, unless you been livin’ apart more’n a year. You screwin’ around?”

“Not me,” affirmed Wally. “Her.”

“Oh.” Poppick was older than Denton Huffner, but there was a weird resemblance. Both wore glasses, were overweight, fair and balding, but Poppick was a bona fide intellectual who had attended college, had graduated and gone to law school, had passed the bar examination, and was on the fast track to an eventual family court judgeship. His AFRA work was another notch in the stock of his resume, and he was destined to move on before long. An associate at Carlyle, Froster, DiMico and Poppick, he had never handled a divorce case.

“How much will it cost me?” Wally wanted to know.

Poppick pretended to do figuring on his legal pad. “I don’t know. You have no kids. She’s gainfully employed. ‘Bout five hundred retainer should cover it, open and shut. You got that much?”

“Yes. . . . But I’m starting a new job at WGND next month—keep it under your hat—how long will this take?”

“You got proof she’s fucking around?”

“Yeah. I think so. I think a guy named Harry Thomason’s been nailing her at my place on South Flower for a while now. I caught them in the shower together. He works where she works at Dellocora’s Laundry.”

“You actually caught ‘em?”

“Yeah. I came home early.”

“Anybody with you—anybody else see ‘em?”

“No. I went in the bathroom to take a leak. They were in the shower—together.”

“Take any pictures?”

“Hell no. My fly was down, my schwanz was in my hand.”

“You confront her?”

“Yeah. Later. When I got home.”

“She deny it?”

“No. Not really.”

“Interesting.” Poppick scribbled on his pad. “Name ‘em and they both’ll get fired, even if it’s bullshit. ‘Least they should be. We’ll threaten ‘em, anyway. I think your divorce is in the bag.”

Not that Poppick cared one way or the other, but the divorce was never decreed. An annulment, however, was.

Wally and Geraldine closed the apartment that weekend; she went home to Bernard and Erica Furk’s where she shared a room with her older sisters, and Wally, much to Doris’ delight, returned to his parents’ half a house on Richmond Avenue. What furniture and knickknacks they had went with Geraldine. Wally packed his clothes in a suitcase he borrowed from Denton Huffner and made off with the Mason jar. The five hundred dollars went to Manny Poppick. Six weeks after Wally started at WGND Bernard Furk received a letter from the diocesan attorney attesting the annulment had been duly registered with the State of New York and accepted by the Vatican. It was signed by The Most Reverend Torrance R. Mazzaferro, SJ, Bishop of Erie County and witnessed by the Honorable Lamont T. Graham, Esq., New York State Supreme Court.

All’s well that ends . . .

There were three agents on duty behind the service counter in TWA’s Global Club—a man and two women—and Wally approached the man; the women were occupied on the telephones and there were no other customers waiting at the counter. The male agent, well under forty but nearly bald and fighting obesity, was wearing a plastic nametag on his red jacket that labeled him Henry Hummington; he looked up, smiled, and asked pleasantly, “Yes sir, may I help you?”

Wally pushed his sheath of tickets across the counter top. “I just want to reconfirm my seat assignment.”

“Certainly, sir.” Before scooping up the tickets, he glanced at Wally more closely, “That was Johnny Carson and Suzanne Pleshette you were with, wasn’t it, sir?”

Wally felt a charge of electric gratification surge through his body, as if an unapproachable prom queen had suddenly bussed his cheek. “Yes,” he said, almost smugly, “it was.”

“I’ve been a fan of his for years. They’re not flying with us today?”

“No, unfortunately they’re on United.” For good measure and further titillation, he threw in: “We had to split up. Their First Class was fully booked.”

“Pity. . . .” Henry Hummington checked the tickets against Wally’s computer record, the tiny screen showing three rows of bright green information against a faded black background, slipped the tickets inside a fresh TWA envelope, and passed them back across the counter. “You’re in 1-C, Mr. Emerson, 1-D by the window is occupied. You’re all set.”

Wally put the tickets in his jacket pocket. “Thanks. I hope I’ve got an interesting seatmate . . . for a change.”

The agent went back to his narrow keyboard and tapped a few keys. “It’s your lucky day. I show Genevieve Rachmann in 1-D.”

“The model?”

“The Playboy model,” Henry smiled. “The very same.”

Wally made his exit from the counter with, “Wow. Tell the pilot to drive slow and smooth.”

Genevieve Rachmann had already boarded and was comfortably ensconced in 1-D, Mimosa in hand, and a copy of Cosmopolitan open across her lap, by the time Wally sauntered into the Constellation’s First Class cabin.

‘This seat taken?” he breathed, flashing his most engaging smile.

A blonde and comely stewardess came alongside him. “Good evening, Mr. Emerson. What could I bring you to drink?”

“I think a vodka/tonic—no lime, no lemon—would be just what the doctor ordered. And,” gesturing toward Genevieve, “what about the lady?”

“And you, Miss Rachmann?”

Genevieve spoke from 1-D with a velvety rush of passion delicately balanced with deliberate, practiced cadence. “Would a Manhattan be too much trouble?”

Wally, in the manner of a peregrine sophisticate, asked, “When will dinner be served?”

The stewardess placed her hand on Wally’s arm, and he felt a tingle low in his stomach. “About an hour and a half after takeoff. . . . Wine or champagne?”

“Steak or fish?”

“Chicken Rosakovia, last I looked, alongside the chateaubriand.”

“Great! Champagne first, then your best Merlot.” Wally removed his jacket, handed it to the stewardess, and slipped into the aisle seat. He looked closely at Genevieve Rachmann. And was certain he had never seen anyone as drop dead, heart-stopping gorgeous—an unique brunette with ebony hair and skin like brushed gold, flawless and smooth as the surface of a pristine pool. “I know you from somewhere . . . good God, a magazine cover!—Redbook or Ladies Home Companion—no, wait a minute . . .”

“Playboy,” the model assisted. “Never the cover. Always inside. Always the centerfold. Four times. I’m surprised you looked at my face.”

Wally had no idea what she had said. The sound of her voice was the oboe of angels: melodic and sweet, barely audible but rich in deep, fluid notes that began somewhere in a celestial sky and danced against his ears in a romantic symphony amplified by hours of vodka/tonics. “What? What did you say?”

Genevieve laughed and reached over, placing her hand on his arm. “Relax,” she said, “and buckle up—it’s four hours to L.A.”

Wally sighed and leaned back against the soft leather. When she removed her hand, he said, “You’re right. We’re stuck with each other, for better or worse. My name’s Wally Emerson.”

“Pleased to make your acquaintance.” She offered her hand, which Wally promptly took. “I’m Genevieve Rachmann,” she said; “people call me ‘Rocky’.”

“I know, I know,” Wally informed her. “I’ve read your bios.” He wasn’t sure if he ever had, but he knew it didn’t matter—he held her hand longer than necessary, and she slowly removed it. Hating nicknames, he was certain he would never call her ‘Rocky’. “I’m from Buffalo, Rocky,” he said, in spite of himself.

“New York?”

“Last I looked.”

“The frozen tundra.”

“You know Buffalo?”

“Until I was seven. We lived in Cheektowaga. Moving to Chicago was like going to the tropics.” She sighed and looked away, as if she had told this many times. “I love going to L.A,” she said, incongruous as it was. “What do you do?”

“Me? Nothing much. TV,” he answered. “Co-anchor the news, cover the weather, some sports—just about every staff assignment comes along. Radio everyday from three to seven, forty-five minutes off for the early news package. WGND—Buffalo’s NBC affiliate, a fifty thousand watt blowtorch . . .”

Genevieve looked wistful. “I love radio. I’d rather do radio than anything.”

“You have a show?”

She tossed her head with jaunty deference. “Good heavens, no! I mean interviews. I’m always getting interviewed.” She asked why he was going to L.A.

“I don’t know,” he replied, uncertain how serious his answer had to be. “Kill time. You know—vacation. Screw around. . . . You know Lennie McCarthur? Ever hear of him?”

She pursed her full, bulbous lips. “Nooo. I don’t think so. He on radio?”

Wally shook his head. The stewardess returned with their drinks, and touched his glass to Genevieve’s. “To a smooth flight. And, uh, a happy landing.”

The Constellation’s wheels were up at three-forty-one and dinner in First Class was served, as promised, less than two hours later. It was a five-course affair starting with a consommé, then salad and sherbet, followed by the entrée of chicken medallions in a delicate Rosakovia cream sauce and chateaubriand broiled to a perfect medium/rare, roasted new potatoes, tender asparagus—then a dessert cart with all imaginable cakes, pastries, pies, cookies, ice cream, fudge, nuts, and strawberry shortcake; the coffee was Royal Cup and the après le déluge was cognac, amaretto, or Irish Cream. The service set on the retractable tray in front of each privileged passenger was Minton china, Waterford crystal, Rimbaud sterling flatware, and miniscule salt and peppershakers of Jasper cut glass. Cocktails, wine and champagne were presented in Ajka crystal stemware. Brilliant white tray cloths and giant napkins with ornate buttonholes and monogrammed TWA complemented the single fresh rose that appeared in a Belleek mini-vase on every setting.

“Isn’t this nice?” Genevieve commented, surveying the elegance.

Wally ignored the food and sipped his Merlot. “Rocky, let me ask you something.”

“Sure.”

“If this plane were to, say, disappear somewhere over the Sierra Nevada’s, you and I would go to the Great Beyond without ever, you know, really knowing each other. Right?”

Genevieve nodded and sipped first her Manhattan, then her champagne.

“Two ships passing in the night,” he said, profoundly. “Here today—gone tomorrow. C’est la vie.”

Genevieve looked at him over the top of her champagne flute and asked, “Do you think in clichés, as well?”

Wally’s face burned a bright red. Even the amount of alcohol and tonic water he had consumed since leaving Buffalo did not quench the careless arson of his dialogue, nor did it relieve him of what he perceived as Genevieve’s rapier repartee. Too many years reading AP and UPI wire stories and living behind a microphone expounding on the convoluted ideas and inconsistencies of daily occurrences had stunted his ability to speak in sentences that might be misapplied by a heterogeneous audience as shattered intelligence. Unfortunately, his entire life would be spent philosophizing in less than abstract terms and thought. And, he was well aware, there was little or nothing he could do about it. Sans a college education, he did not think he was—or ever would be—that smart; he could fake it just so far.

“Yes,” he said. “Well, no, I don’t. At least, not consciously.”

“Well, I forgive you,” she smiled. “After all, you’re in TV—show business—you know.” And the smile broke into a gentle laugh.

Wally breathed deeply and quickly changed the subject. Conversation with someone like Genevieve Rachmann was so unlike any conversation he might have had with Geraldine, he was likely to have said anything. “What I was going to say was, how’re you getting into town from LAX?”

As best she could behind the lavish tray and holding a champagne flute, Genevieve shrugged. “Limo, I guess. They always send one for me. A little man in a black suit will wait for me with a card on a stick that will say my name.”

“Could I hitch a ride?”

She glanced at him with her lips bowed into a solemn pucker and wondered . . . “Sure, why not?” Her tone, however, was noncommittal. “I’m at the Beverly Hills. You staying there”

“No,” Wally said truthfully. “I’m at the Roosevelt,” he lied.

“No problem,” Genevieve assured him in a more relaxed tone. “I’ll, we’ll drop you off.”

After dinner, the service cleared away, and the trays retracted, Wally unfastened his seat belt, slouching, leaning over and speaking almost directly into Genevieve’s ear. “Rocky, once the dinner carts are cleared away and people start dozing off there’ll be virtually no one back in the rear, in the lounge.” She waited for him to say more, but he remained silent. Finally she said, “So?”

He did not answer immediately; he merely shrugged. After a long moment, he offered: “You—wanna go in the back . . . in the lounge? . .

“Why?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “Be a good chance to, you know, get to—you know, have a drink—get to know each other better?”

Genevieve laughed aloud. ‘You mean—like the Mile High Club?. . is that what you mean, for Gods sake!?—that what you got in mind?”

Wally’s faced burned crimson again. “Well—yea—now that you mention it—what the hell, not a bad idea!” Somehow, he knew her next line would be: What kind of a girl do you think I am? But that wasn’t what she said.

Genevieve placed her hand on Wally’s arm, and he was naïve and drunk enough to think it was a positive and romantic gesture. “Wally—we barely know each other. You’re a very attractive man, but chances are we’ll never see each other again—“

“Not true. Not even remotely true.” The voice of desperation.

“Yes. For true. You live in Buffalo, I live in Chicago—and I may be moving into the Mansion in L.A. in the very near future—I think Hef’s going to bring it up . . .”

“Makes no difference,” Wally insisted. “If I land something in Hollywood—”

“If. Just what I thought.” Although he had said nothing in that direction, she had instinctively assumed that was why he was going to Hollywood.

He said no more for a moment, just looked at her longingly, and she left her hand firmly on his forearm. Then: “We could just go in the back and . . . talk,” he said.

“Yeah. Of course. Exactly what you got in mind. Talk. Just talk. Talk. Talk. Sure.”

The First Class section of TWA’s transcontinental Constellation accommodated sixteen passengers, and there were nine seats occupied. Of those, row 1—A, B, C, and D—were bulkhead seats. The four each on starboard and port were for those travelers—usually celebrities—who wanted a measure of privacy to read, talk, relax, drink or doze while winging across the country at 300 miles per hour. The lounge in the rear, separated from the Coach cabin by a heavy red drape similar to the one up front, which hid the galley, was a somewhat circular affair with upholstered sofas along each wall and abutting a service bar—behind which was a lavatory hidden from view. The lounge, for First Class patrons only, was for those desiring a quiet place for more drinking, talking or further relaxing.

“There’s no way,” Genevieve pointed out, with no suggestive hint in her voice that it would matter one way or the other, “that we can be alone back there. People in Coach have to use the bathroom, too.”

Wally, ignoring her tone and being the pragmatist who had had far too much to drink, countered with, “The lavatory is very . . . spacious.”

The look on Genevieve’s face glowed with disdain. “Really? God. How accommodating. You gotta be kidding.”

“No, seriously, Rocky, it’s quite nice. Very, uh, clean. Rarely used by anyone—except the crew. Really.”

“Get real,” she admonished, but Wally hopefully, despite her basilisk stare, felt her heart was not in it. “Ask the stewardess if we can have another drink.”

“A Manhattan?”

“No. A cognac.”

Wally unhitched his seatbelt again and carefully made his way forward to the galley. He ordered a Bailey’s Irish Cream for himself and a Courvasier for Genevieve. “Anyone in the lounge back there?” he asked the stew.

The young attendant, her smile a dazzling and iridescent panoply of human study, nearly made him spill his pony. “I doubt it,” she said. “We haven’t picked up all the dinner service yet.”

Wally, convinced he was faced with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, quickly returned to 1C and D and handed Genevieve her drink. “I’m going to check out the lounge—be right back. Once the stews clear all the carts, join me in the back—okay?” Without waiting for a reply, he sashayed up the aisle, using seatbacks for support.

Parting the heavy drapery with a drink in his left hand was no easy task. But once inside he was pleased to see it was empty. He glanced in the direction of the lavatory behind the unattended bar and noticed the bulkhead sign was lighted: Unoccupied. He opened the door and peeked inside. The overhead light came on, and he saw it was easily large enough for two amorous people to comfortably maneuver all the rites of passion, albeit in a vertical position. And it was, as he expected, spotlessly clean. In his mind he visualized the commode with the lid down and the adjacent wide sink with its bright mirror as an erotic background. Smiling, genuinely satisfied, he closed the door and crossed the cabin; he sat down on one of the huge leather sofas by a port window.

Twenty minutes later he heard someone fussing with the heavy drapes. It would, of course, be Genevieve. It was—of course—not. A stewardess, a new one, poked her blonde head inside. “Care for another drink?” she chirped merrily. Wally nodded and showed her his drained pony. “Bailey’s,” he said, above the dinosaurian roar of the aircraft’s four engines.

“Gotta get it from up front,” the stewardess said, disappearing and gone less than five minutes. She returned with a fresh Irish Cream on a small silver platter. “I didn’t think there’s any Bailey’s back here. Just buzz one of us if there’s anything else you need.”

Wally nodded but offered no response; the stew retrieved his empty pony, turned and left; he noted she had fabulous legs and he stared at her calves until the drapery came together and he was alone.

A half hour passed and Genevieve did not appear. His Bailey’s long gone, Wally left the pony in the armchair’s receptacle and got up, moving cautiously, unsteadily, out of the lounge. From the back of the fuselage, he could not see into 1-C or D. He walked along the starboard row, touching the backs of each aisle seat, balancing himself against a slight turbulence aided by his own self-inflicted lack of stability, until he reached the bulkhead. There, in 1-D, scrunched with three pillows stacked beside the shaded window, was Genevieve, a TWA blanket pulled up under her chin, breathtakingly beautiful in repose, her mouth slightly open—and sound asleep. Sighing in quiet resignation, he plopped into 1-Ct, buckled his seatbelt, and closed his eyes. He opened them after a moment and briefly considered reaching over and taking her hand. He didn’t; he remained immobile. He closed his eyes again.

5

The bar was on Vine Street, not far from the corner of Hollywood Boulevard, and it was called The Rest Room. Wally had discovered it late in the afternoon of his first full day in Los Angeles.

As promised, Genevieve’s limousine had dropped him off at the Roosevelt Hotel late the afternoon before; Wally thanked her profusely and had tried unsuccessfully to kiss her good-bye, and he had stood on the sidewalk under the curious and watchful eye of the doorman as the limo sped away.

“May I get some help for you with that suitcase?” the doorman asked.

“What? Oh. Nooo. Thanks,” Wally said, looking down at the blue monster that contained all he would need for the next three weeks. The suitcase was a large Pullman and weighed close to fifty pounds. “How far am I from the Edwardian?”

The doorman’s eyebrows went up and came down in one swift motion. “Couple of blocks. Bit of a walk.”

“How much would a cab cost?”

“I have no idea.” The doorman turned and walked farther beneath the marquee.

A policeman sauntered by, and Wally asked him for directions to the Edwardian. “Go down to the corner of Vine, turn left, go a block or two to Franklin, then turn right. Can’t miss it.”

Sweating hard and frequently changing hands to grasp the tightly cushioned grip, Wally lugged the suitcase all the way to his hotel. At the corner of Hollywood and Vine, he glanced over his shoulder at the cylindrical Capitol Records building, and the thought occurred to him there was nothing in Buffalo to compare with it. In fact, he thought, there was nothing anywhere in the world to compare with—Hollywood.

He was genuinely surprised and relived when he finally maneuvered his cumbersome suitcase into the air-conditioned lobby of the Edwardian. It was small but neat, well lit and clean, and the desk clerk, a trim young man with hair so blond it was almost orange, seemed actually glad to see him.

“How long will you be with us, Mr. Emerson?”

Wally told him three full weeks.

“Wonderful.” He glanced at his reservation roster. “The rate quoted you here says three-fifteen for your entire stay.”

“Right,” Wally nodded, “that’s what I was told by our travel agency.”

“Well!” smiled he clerk; “good news. We have a ‘special’ starting yesterday for the month at just seventy-five a week—that means your entire tab will be just two-twenty-five, and of course, the silly tax!”

“Same room?”

“You betcha! Absolutely! King size bed, private bath and shower, and all local phone calls free. I’ve set aside one of our particularly nice rooms: oversize, window air-conditioning unit, on the second floor, quiet, away from the elevator, overlooking—nothing. Very quiet and restful.”

Wally mentally calculated the new room rate would save him nearly a hundred dollars, and he was almost hesitant to ask: “TV?”

“Yes sir! Right here in the lobby.” The clerk pointed to a 19-inch Motorola across the room amidst a scattered plethora of Scandinavian furniture. “Watch it any time you want, day or night. Relax on the futon. No one will bother you.” Wally, familiar with the word, had never seen an actual ‘futon’ before.

The next morning Wally woke up nearly sober—only a mild hangover headache—well rested, the California sunlight magically drifting about his room in amber shafts, turning everything to gold amidst specks of dust floating on the AC’s breath. After a shower and no thought of breakfast, he sat naked and drying at the small desk near the air-conditioner; he removed a folded slip of paper from his wallet, and he phoned Lennie McCarthur.

“’Course I remember you!” Lennie boomed through the telephone. “Where’re you at, boy?”

“The Edwardian, on Franklin.”

“Never heard of it.”

“Couple blocks from Hollywood Boulevard.”

“Got a car?”

“No.”

“Shoot. I’ll pick y’all up ‘bout five, in front o’ the hotel. We’ll get dinner here at muh ranch. . . . That okay?”

Later, dressed and hungry, Wally left his room, walked down the narrow staircase to the lobby where he noticed an alcove beyond the front desk; it appeared to house a ‘snack bar.’ The clerk on duty at the desk was not the same one as last night, but he was, not surprisingly, young, trim, and quite blond. Aside from the clerk, there was no one in the lobby or the snack bar. The TV was on but the audio was muted; the program was a game show: The Price is Right.

“Good morning, Mr. Emerson!” the clerk chirped. “Sleep well?”

“Hi. How do you know my name?” Wally wondered.

The clerk shrugged. “No chore. We only have five guests in-house right now, and only one under sixty. I assumed that’s you! Are you breakfasting with us in the Snackarooney today?”

Wally tried to look past the front desk and into the Snackerooney. “Anybody on duty? It’s after ten.”

“Do-it-yourself breakfast,” the clerk replied. “Same as lunch and dinner. Bagels, eggs, Belgian waffles, cereal, hot dogs, ham sandwiches, coffee . . . whatever floats your boat! Be our guest—it’s included. But you got to do it all yourself!”

Wally was impressed. “Breakfast? Dinner? Everyday?”

“Everyday, all day—whatever you want; twenty-four hours. But you’re on your own.”

“Wow. Helluva deal. . . . Where’s a good place for a drink—a watering hole?”

“A what?” The clerk looked perplexed. Wally, stepping closer, looked at his plastic nametag: Troy.

“You know, Troy—a bar, a tavern—saloon.”

Troy looked genuinely embarrassed. “Oh, yeah, sure—never heard it called a ‘water hole’ before. A bar. Yeah, sure! The Rest Room.”

“The what?”

“They call it The Rest Room,” Troy replied. “Everybody goes there.”

“Where is it?”

“Right around the corner,” Troy told him. “A block down Vine.”

By three o’clock Wally had had four vodka/tonics and felt euphorically comfortable and at ease with the world. “I can’t tell you how, uh, great I feel to be here in Hollywood,” he said to Isabelle Follett, a pretty and well-scrubbed young woman of twenty-six, a shorthaired brunette from Kentucky who occupied the stool to his right.

When he first entered The Rest Room, he was certain he had gone blind. His vision, once he stepped from the brilliant sunlight outside into the dim, cave-like darkness of the bar, was diminished to little more than shadows and forms that seemed somehow prehistoric and threatening. It took nearly half an hour for his macular responses to resume something akin to normal refraction, and it was then that he noticed Isabelle Follett at his side.

“Hi,” he said, smiling his most charming. “I didn’t even know you were there.”

“And more worse than that, you don’t even know who I am.” No, Wally conceded, he did not. “I’m Isabelle Follett.” Wally said, “I’m Wally Emerson . . . Is ‘Isabelle’ one el or two?” She told him two. “And Follett is two els too,” she said, proudly. “And two ‘tees’.” Two drinks later, he not only knew who she was and where she was from, but they had a tentative date to go to Tijuana for the bull fights on Saturday if they were both free (which, it turned out, would not be the case.)

Isabelle Follett, wearing slacks and a sheer linen blouse that revealed her bra beneath, was prettier than the average twenty-six year old who frequented places like The Rest Room and shared drinks and biographies with strange young men before lunch. Isabelle, Wally learned, lived in Los Angeles with her twin sister, Beverly; they both worked as dispatchers for H&V Taxi at LAX, and their apartment was a co-op on Western Avenue, south of Wilshire. Wally’s eyes widened when she mentioned she owned a car, a six-year-old Chevrolet coupe with less than a hundred fifty thousand miles. “We drove it all the way from Louisville, Kentucky,” she confided, “when we came out here last year. Are you really from Buffalo? Me and Bev went there right after high school, and we saw Niagara Falls—the Canadian side is a lot nicer, let me tell you. All we saw on the American side was the Carborundum Museum and some souvenir shops. It was on a Sunday, I think.”

Wally asked if twin sister Beverly was coming to The Rest Room to meet her?

“No, not today. We work different shifts. This week she’s on from seven to four, and I’m on from four to eleven. I have the car, so I’ll drive down at three-thirty and give it to her. She’ll come back and pick me up at eleven and drive me home. Then tomorrow I’ll drive her in at six-thirty, or thereabout.” She nodded as if the logistics of their schedule were the height of simplicity and the most critical activity they would ever undertake; she sipped her drink.

Wally glanced at his watch. “I’ve got to go back to the hotel and take a shower. I’m having dinner with a friend I know tonight.”

“Oh.” Isabelle seemed disappointed.

“You know Lennie McCarthur?” When Isabelle shook her head, Wally elaborated. “Big movie star. Or he was, a few years ago. Westerns.”

“I never go to Westerns.”

“Yeah, well, anyway, he’s picking me up at five, at my hotel. Will I see you again in here?”

“I guess so. I’ll be in tomorrow, ‘bout the same time.”

Wally placed some money on the bar and slid off his stool. “Good—great. I’ll come by and, uh, buy you a drink. . . . By the way, why do they call this place The Rest Room?”

Isabelle shrugged. “I don’t know. It used to be called The Parking Lot, and guys would come in here, stay too long, and call the office or home and say they were ‘in the parking lot—be right up.’ Eventually, I guess the ploy wore out, so they changed the name to The Rest Room. I heard they were thinking of changing it to The Office, but somebody beat them to it.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. It’s a couple blocks down from here, other side of the street.”

“Wow. . . . See you tomorrow,” Wally said, and went outside, making a mental note to buy some sunglasses.

Lennie McCarthur pulled up in front of the Edwardian at five forty-five. He was driving a beige, brightly polished, fairly new Cadillac convertible, and the top was down. Wally, waiting on a bench just inside the open portico to the lobby, sprang to his feet the moment Lennie touched the horn. “Jesus, what a great car!” he said, opening the door and slipping inside. Lennie reached over and they shook hands.

“Sorry I’m late,” he said. “Fuckin’ traffic this time a day’s a real pain in the ass. Waitin’ long?”

“Nah,” Wally lied. “I just came down. I figured you were fighting rush hour.”

“How’s your trip out here?” Lennie slipped the gear into D and pulled out onto Franklin Ave.

“Uneventful. Slept most of the way. I did run into Johnny Carson in the Red Carpet Room in Chicago.”

“No shit. How’s ol’ John-boy?”

“Super. Just great. Told him I was going to see you. Asked how you were and all.”

“Yeah, right.” Lennie glanced over and snarled. “Sumbitch had me booked on his show once back a couple years. I got dumped for Rory Calhoun, big gut and all. The prick never had me re-booked. Asshole.”

“I . . . didn’t know that.”

“Fuck’im. Show biz.”

The drive to the McCarthur ranch in the San Fernando Valley did not seem so long, to Wally, as it actually was. The spread, yclept Bar Amateurs, suddenly came into view as they sped through Winnetka, went over a long and narrow flexuous hill road with a tantalizing frieze of stately oaks along each side, and dipped onto a flat plain that opened a vista over which at least a third of Lennie’s six thousand acres was visible. A few Black Angus cattle and sparse vegetation dotted a rolling sward of hummocks and shallow valleys. With the sun setting off to the left, the winding macadam gave way to a smooth dirt road that shot straight ahead to a wrought-iron gate that broke into a fence that disappeared in both directions. The esemplastic panorama was profound in its simplicity.

Superjacent to the gate, in rough script, was a tangled steel announcement that this was, in fact, the entrance to BAR ∩ AMATEURS. Wally noted the otiose ∩ was askance and inverted.

“Your horseshoe is upside down,” Wally commented, as they approached the gate.

“Yeah,” Lennie snickered. “Doan matter none. My luck ran out ten years ago. Spilled all over the road. No sense turnin’ the damn thing up again. I thought I was bringin’ a whole new world to the wild west shows when I agreed to go with the circus for a season, an’ reinvigorate appreciation for riding’ an’ shootin’ an’ bulldoggin’ . . .”

“Bulldoggin?”

“You know—ridin’ down a full grown bull, then jumpin’ on him an’ bringin’ him down an’ turnin’ him around. Ain’t many people left who can do that—least not the way I did. I was different, an’ that’s what sold ‘em on me comin’ with the show—course the name Lenny McCarthur didin hurt none, neither. Shoot, I never could hit nuthin with a carbine like Annie Oakley, but by the same token, she never could hit twenty-nine outta thirty playin’ cards on a movin’ stick with a six-shooter, reloadin’ while runnin’ in circles ‘on a horse ‘round the ring. An’ course, she never even knew Billy Pickett.”

“Who?”

“Aw, you too young to know. Billy was at the 101 Ranch in San Antone when I was growin’ up. He was a nigra fella who could ride down a bull, then jump on him an’ bring ‘im down by bitin’ down hard on the bull’s lower lip. Bull was so damn scared he jus’ dropped down an’ gave up. Billy was the best there ever was at it. He retired the year I started high school, an’ I wanted to be jus’ like him, but by the time I got a job at 101, he was gone—an’ so was bulldoggin’ by bitin’ on the bull’s lower lip. So, I jus’ learned the reglar way an’ won four or five blues at rodeos by the time I was twenny’r so . . .”

“How’d you get in the movies?” Wally asked, impetuously.

“I doan know. Quit the wild west shows, went full time in rodeos, an’ when we played in Los Angeles, Ron Mayfield saw me an’ asked if I wanted to stand-in an’ double for some guy named Gary Cooper. I said, sure, why not?—whoever he was. I made more in three days than I ever had in three months, so I jus’ stayed out here—one thing juss led to nother.”

“But you played the circus in Buffalo just last month. How come?”

“Well, I’m talkin’ more’n two dozen years ago when I first come out here. The circus you saw me in was a one-time tour I agreed to for a ol’ friend. Shoot, it was jus’ a fun thing to do ‘til a new season gets underway out here. I can’t recall when I had so much fun ridin’, shootin’, an’ bulldoggin’ every day inna circus!”

The ranch house—a sprawling mansion with four white columns supporting a portico that served as the focal point of a mammoth, wrap-around porch—a porch that hosted three dozen inviting wicker rockers guarding numerous cushioned gliders, incidental tables and wrought-iron lamps with rawhide shades—suddenly and majestically appeared at the end of the long driveway. As it was now dusk, the lights from within dotted the tall, narrow windows on both floors and gave the house a glow of golden welcome that caused Wally to take a deep breath. Outside of old copies of Western Living curiously left scattered about the lobby of WGND, Wally had never seen anything like it.

“Purty nice, huh?” Lennie said, glancing sideways at his young guest as he maneuvered the Cadillac deasil at the cul-de-sac of the driveway, parking between the garden fountain and the front steps.

Wally thought of his parents’ half a house on Richmond Street in Buffalo, and his only reaction was: “Wow.”

McCarthur scrunched to his right and faced Wally. “Sumpthin, ain’t it? Used ta belong to Johnny Weissmuller. When he beat out Gable and made it big with Tarzan, they moved to the beach in Malibu, so he could swim in the ocean, I guess, an’ it sat empty for I doan know how long. I fell in love with it—sort o’ my Xanadu—so Lolo an’ me we bought it at a auction for a song the year after Betsy was born. Come on in—I wantcha ta meet the family.”

“Clark Gable was going to be Tarzan?”

“Yeah, but I guess Weissmuller looked better in a loincloth. Gable got the Oscars and the war medals an’ the broads, but what the fuck, ol’ Johnny got Olympic gold an’ a shitload o’ money swingin’ through the trees for twenny years.” He added, as an afterthought, “An’ I got this here ol’ ranch for a song.”

“How come you never played Tarzan?” Wally asked.

“Nobody never ast me,” Lennie replied, thoughtfully.

Lennie McCarthur’s family was, unexpectedly, central casting TV sitcom. Lolo, his wife, met them in the cavernous vestibule. She was the most attractive middle-aged housewife Wally had ever seen. Petite yet voluptuous, her hair worn short and casual, her face and smile that of a prom queen who needed, against a radiant tan, no more than a hint of makeup. She seemed to rush forward to kiss her husband’s cheek and simultaneously grasp Wally’s hand in a sincere grip. Wearing a simple, low cut soignée cocktail dress of vinaceous satin, most assuredly a dernier cri, she stepped back and looked Wally over from head to toe.

“My,” she exuded, “you’re more handsome than Lennie said you were. In fact, you’re downright pretty! You should definitely be in the movies!”

“Shouldn’t we all!” Lennie laughed and steered Wally into the library off to his left. “You have tuh forgive my wife,” he said, slipping his free arm about her waist. “She’s been out here so long she thinks every man under thirty who looks like Alan Ladd should be in the movies.”

Lolo McCarthur took good-natured umbrage at that. “I do not! And more so, I don’t think Mr. Emerson looks a bit like Alan Ladd. You don’t, do you, Mr. Emerson?”

Wally was confused. “Don’t—what?”

“Look like Alan Ladd.”

“Me? No, ma’m. Not me.”

Lennie said, “Shoot, Lo, Ladd’s only four feet tall. Wally here’s damn near as tall as me! What d’ya like to drink, Emerson?”

“I don’t know,” Lolo said, thoughtfully, absently; “maybe not Alan Ladd. More like Errol Flynn, only without the moustache and lighter, wavier hair.”

“Now you’re talkin’. We’ll ask Betsy when she comes down. She’s home, ain’t she?”

Lolo nodded. “Yes. She even plans on joining us for dinner. . . . So, Mr. Emerson, tell us all about yourself.”

Lennie excused himself and went off to a dry sink and pantry/bar between the library and the dining room. Lolo patted the sofa next to where she had seated herself and commanded Wally sit down next to her. “Lennie says you’ve come all the way from Buffalo. May I tell you a secret, Mr. Emerson?”

“Sure,” Wally said.”

“Promise to never tell?”

“Yes, ma’m. And please, call me Wally.”

“All right, I will. If you promise to never call me ‘ma’m’.”

Wally smiled his most charming. “I promise. . . .What’s your secret?”

Lolo glanced about as if making sure no one were eavesdropping. “I’ve never been farther East than Detroit—filthy city that it is.”

That made Wally chuckle. “You’re kidding.”

“Nope. Was born right here in Southern California. Went to high school in Pasadena, took drama at UCLA, made six or seven films you never saw—my name was Lolo Rand then—met Lennie on the set of Shadows of the Tiger, married him, had Betsy—and lived happily ever after,” a rather beatific smile caressing her lovely countenance, “—or happily ever after as anyone can, out here.”

Wally looked about the library and made an all-encompassing gesture. “I’d say happy can be a pretty, uh, happy thing out here, around here!”

“But what about you?” she wanted to know. “Tell me all about you—and Buffalo, New York.”

Wally began with graduating from high school and landing his first job in radio, and it was not the first time he delighted in talking about himself. Over the years, since marrying and leaving Geraldine, he had developed a conversational style that percolated into near rapture when regaling anyone who would listen with stories of his first radio sale to Julius Weinstein, his first announcing job on FM, and his venture into television with the announcement of WGND’s FCC construction permit. Lolo McCarthur proved to be a perfect receptacle for his humorous exaggerations—of which there were, as always, many. She laughed merrily in all the right places, and twice placed her hand on his knee in anticipation of an unexpected denouement. By the time Lennie returned with a tray full of cocktails, Wally had fallen in love with Lolo and would have suffered total heartbreak were it not, eventually, for the appearance of the McCarthurs’ fourteen year old daughter, Betsy Rand.

“Sure hope you like Tennessee bourbon,” Lennie bellowed, as he re-entered the room. “Jack Daniel’s, Ol’ Number Seven—only drink fit fer man’r beast—an’ their women, too!” Wally said he did not think Jack Daniel’s was, in fact, bourbon. “It ain’t,” McCarthur concurred, plumply. “It’s a sour mash whisky, nothin’ like that Kentucky bilge. But I call it bourbon ‘cause I like the way it sounds. Besides, I’m a Tennessee Squire, an’ I can call it any dang thing I want!”

Wally looked surprised. “I didn’t know you were from Tennessee.”

“I ain’t. Never even been there. Born an’ bred in West Texas, where men’r men an’ the sheep’r nervous. Hah!” That evoked a hearty laugh from Lolo, and Wally as well.

“How’d you get to be a ‘Tennessee Squire’?” Wally wondered.

“I dunno. Got put up for membership by another squire, I guess. Maybe Sinatra or George Cukor. They make you a member of the Tennessee Squire Association, an’ you get a card to carry in your wallet. An’ looky here!” He pointed to a framed document on the nearest wall. “That’s a actual deed to a piece o’ land at the distillery—it says I’m a honorary citizen of Moore County, Tennessee, an honest to God dry county where Jack Daniel’s is made, where you couldn’t buy a drink if your name was Billy Sunday or Al Capone. Shoot, they send me presents every year—like these here special Jack Daniel’s glasses.”

Lennie was carrying a wooden tray on which the four libations were comprised of two Jack Daniel’s on the rocks and two ‘Lynchburg Lemonades,’ one made with sour mash whisky and one with just Coca-Cola. “The one on the end’s for Betsy, when she gets down for dinner, if she ever does. Teenage girls take forever doin’ their hair—I think they do it one hair at a time. Actually, come to think on it, it took about six weeks for this eyas to mature into a full-grown peregrine falcon!”

“That’s not true, Daddy,” Betsy Rand said from the doorway, and the three adults in the room turned to look at her. “It’s not my har I care about. It’s these darn zits I get on my chin!”

Betsy Rand stood in the doorway of the library, and she was as short and frail as her father was tall and robust. At fourteen, she was absolutely the most beautiful woman—girl—female—Wally had ever seen. Her blouse was a delicately embroidered Mexican short smock, rugose, sleeveless and cut too low for a teenager, her skirt a billowy and pleated chiffon peasant’s wraparound that blended perfectly with her beige sandals. Her hair was ebony—jet black yet fair in contrast with huge brown eyes that flashed darkly—hair that hung loose on the sides, draping casually over a broad sinciput, giving her a cyanope aura of adolescent mystery. But it was her pale skin, her complexion radiating a smooth, flawless compulsion that made her seem older and more mature, and yet ageless really, desirable and unattainable, a person with a perpetual baby-face, a woman of purpose and profound presence. Wally, on his feet, leaned forward and tried in vain to find an errant zit invading and marring her delicate chin. His eyes gazing at her with blatant lickerish resolve, a cupidity forming in his soul he wouldn’t begin to understand for nearly another decade, the short-lived, phantom love affair with Lolo Rand became instantly a thing forever forgotten.

Without waiting, he marched toward the child and extended his hand. “I’m Wally Emerson,” he said, “from Buffalo. And you are the—most—uh—adorable young lady I have ever seen!”

Lolo, behind him, beamed proudly, and Lennie laughed aloud, both momentarily on the verge of being overcome with unabashed philoprogenitive adoration. “Shoot, man,” he said, “you should see her when we get her all cleaned up for TV!”

6

Lennie McCarthur, his bios circuitously suggesting he was closing in on fifty, had, over the past two and a half decades, broken or dislocated nearly every bone in his body. As a six-foot-six, two hundred thirty pound stuntman and double, with the physique of a professional football wide receiver, he had made major stars from John Wayne to Richard Widmark to Gary Cooper to Alan Ladd to Basil Rathbone to Tyrone Power to John Barrymore to Clark Gable—to mention but a few—look invincible in barroom brawls, street fights, falls off balconies, tumbles down stairs, shot off horseback at full gallop, in plane crashes, car collisions, in the bull ring, in the prize ring, in hand-to-hand combat with enemy troops, lengthy and impractical fencing scenes, house fires with crumbling walls and roofs, explosions that sent bodies in all directions, and avalanches that buried hapless miners in hopeless situations. . . . Every Hollywood icon from Henry Fonda to Glenn Ford to William Boyd to Randolph Scott wanted Lennie McCarthur whenever the script called for dangerous action that might cause bodily harm to the dauntless star. One reason was that McCarthur had the uncanny ability to assume the basic persona of each protagonist he stood in for, and another was his chameleon-like physique that actually took on the muted appearance of the star he emulated. His carbon copy performances, his stance, his gait and general demeanor allowed a number of publicists to say with a straight face that so-and-so never used a double and did all his own stunts. And Lennie just smiled and collected astronomical fees for his brief efforts.

Harbored deep within, however, was his first love: acting. When he began in Hollywood from West Texas, by way of Oklahoma, he was spotted by Jesse Lasky and introduced to Cecil B. DeMille, and he quickly became a favorite of several directors and was cast almost immediately as a western hero in a series of Lasky’s movies. Unfortunately, unlike William S. Hart and others, these pictures never developed into a niche that led to genuine stardom; either Lennie was too rugged-looking with a nimbus that most men did not see illuminating themselves, or he was too recognizable as the craggy, muscular fellow most women regarded as totally unobtainable among their own circle of similar prospects. Despite his skills as an actor, who, after the advent of sound, began to rely on his deep, raspy voice and the fact he always knew his lines, Lennie McCarthur fell into the disastrous trap of playing the character rather than himself, hence effortlessly assimilating the scriptwriter’s imagined hero. Stardom, in the movies, was reserved for those whose range was broader than most, yet constrained by the fans who bought tickets to see actors who were limited to performances wherein they themselves were the characters, and the show was about them, not the embodiments or ideas they were portraying. The best examples were Will Rogers, Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant, Henry Fonda, John Wayne, Burt Lancaster, Gene Autry, and Fred Astaire—they all played a variety of characters, but every character they played was—themselves. Will Rogers (Lennie’s idol) came from super stardom on the stage, but never achieved similar heights in dozens of movies—some did moderately well, but most were genuine flops. As Lennie’s thespian luster faded and scenarios became more daring and realistic, Lennie found himself existentially in demand as a stuntman and double. Most directors and some stars refused to function without him, and there were weeks when he worked on as many as four or five movies at a time. One stunt that was often required was one only he could do: get shot and roll sideways off a horse running at top speed, hit the ground on his back and shoulder, then tumble head over heels until his momentum waned and thrust him to a dead stop amidst a cloud of dirt that even in a medium close-up convinced the audience it was really the grizzled bad guy, the painted savage, or the clean-shaven hero who had “bit the dust.” The illusion, to the director and producer’s delight, was almost always achieved in one well-rehearsed take. “That one little trick alone,” Lennie once told a writer from Silver Screen, “netted me more’n a mill over the past ten years.” But, like Will Rogers, he claimed to be a failure, and he often quoted Flo Ziegfeld’s greatest star: “Out in Hollywood, they say you’re not a success unless you owe fifty thousand dollars to somebody, have five cars, can develop temperament without notice or reason at all, and have been mixed up in four divorce cases and two breach-of-promise cases. Well, as a success in Hollywood, I’m a rank failure. I hold only two distinctions in the movie business: ugliest fellow in ‘em, and I still have the same wife.”

Wally sat directly across from Lennie and Lolo, and next to Betsy at the long table in the dining room. A macédoine of lobster chunks, shredded King crab and assorted cheeses on Ritz crackers had been served in the library by the McCarthurs’ butler and major domo, Kelvin Masser, who, after their second cocktail, called them to dinner. Lennie orchestrated the seating arrangement with Lolo and himself side by side, and Betsy and Wally across from them. The meal started with gazpacho.

“Wow. This is great!” Wally said, between sips. “I love cold soup.”

“Well, I don’t,” said Betsy. “I think it’s gross. Only Mexicans are too damned cheap to heat their soup.” Lolo said she thought it was a Spanish delicacy. “Same thing,” Betsy muttered, spooning the soup from the upper outside in; Wally watched her, and it occurred to him it was deliberate, to annoy her mother.

Lennie said, “I like it either cold’r hot. Good stuff!”

Wally looked about the dining room and took it all in. It was larger than his entire apartment with Geraldine had been back in Buffalo, and the table was so long he understood why they sat side by side on opposite sides. Had Lennie and Lolo sat at each end with Betsy and him in the middle, they would have been shouting distance from each other. The table could easily accommodate thirty guests.

There was a fire blazing in the open fireplace embedded in the north wall, despite the fact it was March and the air-conditioning was going full blast. The room was designed and decorated in a motif of Southern California Modern, with a series of abstract paintings on two walls, large and ornate black and white lithographs by Samuel DeSoto. Wally had no idea what they represented. There were huge pine pegs protruding from the wall over the fireplace, and Wally could not see what purpose, if any, they served, having no knowledge of adobe construction.

Although he was yet to see it all, the entire ranch house, except the den/office and the bedrooms upstairs, was mostly Southern California Modern, clean and uncluttered yet somewhat gaudy and overbearing. The furniture was massive: functional but unnecessarily heavy and masculine; the floors were of parquet wood and thick, sweaty carpeting—everything suffocating under numerous American Indian throw rugs and even an occasional Oriental. Spanish lamps were everywhere— girandoles—on leather end tables and hanging from rough-hewn rafters, their low-wattage bulbs burning softly with a mild yellow incandescence that gave off spider webs of quasi-fireworks if one squinted at them.

“So, Wally,” Lennie McCarthur inquired, “what’re you doin’ out here onna West Coast, anyway, if I can be so bold to ast ya?”

Wally took a deep breath and exhaled as though he wanted to cool his soup even further. “You know something, Lenny,” he replied. “I don’t really know, myself. When you came to Buffalo and performed all that Western stuff with the circus, the horses and shooting, all those tricks and all—then meeting you and talking on TV about all your experiences in the movies—I guess I got all excited about my own show business ideas, the television and radio, the amateur theater I did with the Community Repertoire and all. . . . I don’t know. Maybe I got the acting bug. Then you said if I ever got out here I should look you up—”

“Shoot, man,” Lennie exclaimed, “that’s what friends’r for. Ain’t nobody out here that ever got anywhere without knowin’ somebody ta help ‘em out, give ‘em a shove an’ a leg up now an’ then. Whaddaya wanna do, be a movie actor? A director? . . Hairdresser?—lotta them out here!”

Lolo said, “I think he’d make a great movie actor. He looks just like Montgomery Clift.”

Betsy giggled. “Except Wally’s hair is light brown—too light.”

“I think you’re right,” Lolo conceded. “He’s more like—I don’t know—an American Roddy McDowell?”

“Hold on.” Lennie raised his hand and looked intently at Wally, narrowing his eye in an almost sinister gaze. “What makes you think you could be a movie actor?”

Wally gave a nearly imperceptible shrug. “I don’t know.”

“Good reason as any,” Lennie said. “You got any idea what makes a good movie actor—as much as any other kind?”

“No, sir.”

Lennie burst out laughing. “Jaysus! You think callin’ me ‘sir’ is gonna get you anything more’n a bigger T-bone steak? Man, you got a way o’ whistlin’ Dixie! Hah!”

Betsy reached over and covered Wally’s hand with her own. 220 volts and 50 cycles passed through Wally’s body. “Daddy,” she said to Lennie, “you can be such a dork! Wally’s just being polite. He knows exactly what being a movie actor is.”

“No, he doant—he ain’t got a clue. You tell us, baby dumplin’,” Lennie smiled, “since you know all the answers ta everythin’.”

Betsy put down her soupspoon. “Movie acting,” she said, as if reciting something she had written for a paper in high school, “is what people do in front of a camera so they don’t have to be especially good at holding your attention for more than an hour and a half. On TV it’s even less than that.”

A silence hung over the table like a rain-soaked mosquito net.

After a moment, Wally broke in. “I think maybe Betsy’s onto something.” He wanted to say something, anything, to impress her.

“Whaddya mean?”

“Well,” Wally improvised, “look at it this way. Every time you see a star up on the screen, he—or she—plays just one role: herself. Sure, there are plenty of variations on the theme, but the focal point of the person in the center of the action is always the same—the star. Character actors, guys like you, Lennie, are the real actors—you can be anybody the script calls for. And as a stuntman, you just become the star and take all the risks.”

“Yeah,” Lennie nodded, chomping on his well-done T-bone, “you can say that again! Only thing is, I doan get the big bucks they get. Ain’t fair.”

Lolo was contemplative. “I think I see what Wally means,” she said. “It’s like when Philip Barry wrote Philadelphia Story. Every line, every word he wrote, the image and sound of Katharine Hepburn was all he saw while he was typing away. Even when Donnie Stewart adapted it for the movies, there was Hepburn indelibly set in his mind playing Tracy Lord, and nobody could ever compete with her for the part. Hepburn was Tracy, and Tracy was Hepburn. They could have easily transported Joseph Cotton and Van Heflin and Shirley Booth from the stage to the screen, but they wound up with Cary Grant rather than Clark Gable, and Hepburn settled for Jimmy Stewart when Spencer Tracy wasn’t available, and Ruth Hussey won out over Shirley Booth. But nobody, I mean nobody, was ever considered for the lead but Katharine Hepburn! That’s superstar power!”

Lennie guffawed and Betsy, extraordinarily sentient, said, “It also helped that Hepburn had Howard Hughes buy the rights to the play for her.”

“Be that as it may,” Lolo insisted, unconsciously reifying a proposition she did not entirely understand, “the difference between a star and a character actor is, a star never has to audition.”

Lennie gestured with his knife and fork. “Hold on—that ain’t true. I auditioned just last weekend for the role of the ol’ dad in Rusted Spurs.”

“Well, Pop, I guess you jes ain’t no star!” Betsy laughed.

Wally asked, “Did you get the part?”

“I dunno. They prob’ly won’t call me till they cast the lead.”

At that, the McCarthurs, all three of them, stopped eating and put down their flatware; they stopped chewing and swallowing and looked first at each other, and then they all looked at Wally, simultaneously.

“What?” Wally uttered, nervously.

“Lennie, you thinking what I’m thinking?” Lolo wondered aloud.

“I . . . doan know,” McCarthur said softly.

“Well, I do,” offered Betsy, a glowing teenage cynosure. “I think we may be sitting at the table with the unknown, unheralded star of Rusted Spurs. Might be. Right here . . . Right now. Whadda y’all think?”

“Shoot,” Lennie sighed, as he began to engender an idea he considered all his own, before going back to his T-bone, “might be worth a shot, at that. I’m gonna call Trent DeBrine right after we get us some ice cream.”

Rusted Spurs, Wally learned after a gargantuan slab of German chocolate cake resting atop on equally monstrous slab of vanilla ice cream, was a new NBC western series scheduled to premier in the fall TV season, a somewhat experimental weekly hour about an unlikely non-hero who gets involved in all sorts of complicated plots that he alone can serendipitously unravel while accidentally saving the day, to everyone’s surprise and amazement. The network saw its lead actor as a total unknown whose appearance alone would be the antithesis of the typical six foot-five, lean, drawling, square-jawed fast gun who would rather kiss his horse than share affection with the flaxen-haired damsel he might save from the clutches of weekly doom and gloom. Don Knotts and Donald O’Connor were considered, but neither wanted anything to do with it; Lon McAllister was too manly, and Jack Lemmon, who hated TV, wanted too much money. They were seriously thinking about Dick Van Dyke and Roddy McDowell, and NBC was auditioning everybody and anybody William Morris or CMI came up with.

“You got the voice, the looks, an’ that stupid grin,” Lennie said, back in the library for cigars and cognac after dinner. Wally told him he did not smoke, and if he did, a cigar would be his least choice. “I doan smoke nuthin, neither,” Lennie laughed, considering the entire idea a procrustean gambit, “an’ I doan think there’s a bottle a cognac in the house. An’ I got no idea why they call them drinks ‘cordials’. After eatin’ an’ drinkin’ for two hours, whatever cordialnessalility you got in you has been drowned like a armadilla inna storm sewer, an’ all that’s left is fightin’ an’ cussin’.” He winked at his wife who was sitting on the sofa, balancing a cup of coffee in her lap. “Lo jes likes to hear me say, ‘Let’s a’jern to the lie-berry for cigars an’ cognac.’ Doancha, Lo? Sounds like sumpthin they’d say over at Ray Milland’s house . . .” He turned to his young guest. “So, whaddya think, Wally? Can you learn some lines an’ talk like John Wayne with a Harvard education? Can you ride a horse an’ shoot a six-gun? I mean, seriously, can you ride a horse? . . You know what a six-gun is?”

Wally, who had never even patted a horse, let alone having mounted one, gave a classic facial shrug and, desperately grasping litotes, said, “Sure. In Buffalo we ride horses all the time.”

“When they aren’t breaking buffalo,” Betsy snickered, coming into the room with a cup of coffee of her own.

“Well,” Lennie said, “I doan know how much horseback ridin’ this show’s actually gonna involve. . . . Anyhow, is this somethin’ you’d be int’rested takin’ a crack at?”

Instinctively, Wally felt he needed to position his response—and for reasons he could not explain, the response had to be keyed carefully because Betsy was now in the room and listening intently. He had no clue why that mattered. There was something about Betsy that had struck in his male psyche, well-pitched notes of pure but unfamiliar tones, and he was at a loss to grasp or understand why what she thought or said was of any importance to him. He was nearly fifteen years older; she was a teenager who beneath a façade of physical and emotional maturity was, still, a child. But he could not look at her, much less regard her as such, even after having known her less than three or four hours—it was absurd, but to Wally she was the woman he had been looking for all his life. In four years, she would be eighteen—he would be only thirty-three. He would wait. He could—wait . . . For what?

“Well,” he said to Lennie and the others, his tone deliberately mansuetude, “I came out here looking, hoping, for a break. I want to work in LA, either in broadcasting or the movies. A shot at an NBC series could be a shot at both. If I never saw Buffalo again, it would be too soon.” Genevieve Rachmann was right—I think in clichés!

McCarthur sat silently enjoying the fresh Jack Daniel’s on the rocks he had brought from the dining room. Then he said, “I’m gonna fix you one of these, Wally, and then we’re gonna call Trent DeBrine.”

“Who is he?” Wally asked, and Lennie explained he was the director slated to handle Rusted Spurs; a good old boy himself, from Texas, someone Lennie had known and occasionally worked with for over ten years.

“Shoot,” he said, “even if he doan like you, he’ll know I’m looking out for his best int’rest an’ maybe give me a shot as the star’s ol’ man!”

“That’s my dad,” Betsy said, under her breath.

* * *

The audition was scheduled for eleven Friday morning at MGM’s back lot, at sound stage number 37 in Culver City. Lennie McCarthur’s conversation with Trent DeBrine, over the library telephone, took place as though Wally, Betsy, and Lolo were not in the room.

LENNIE: Hey, Trent, this here’s Lennie McCarthur!

DEBRINE: Who?

LENNIE: You know—Lennie—Lennie McCarthur. Goddamn it, Trent—why you wanna always break my balls?—I’m getting’ set to play the dad to your Freddy Lassiter character in your new Rusted Spurs series . . .

DEBRINE: Oh. Yeah. Sure. We set on that part yet?

LENNIE: I doan know. But that ain’t why I’m callin’.

DEBRINE: I didn’t think so . . . But it’d better be damned important to call me at home at nine-thirty on a Monday night.

LENNIE: It is—it sure is. You got anybody locked in for Freddy Lassiter yet?

DEBRINE (after a pause): No. Nobody firm yet.

LENNIE: Well, that’s good. I doan wanna break anybody’s heart, but I think I found jus’ the right guy for you.

DEBRINE: You have, have you?

LENNIE: Sure as shootin’. Name of Wally Emerson.

DEBRINE: Who?

LENNIE: Wally Emerson. Kid from Buffalo. Big, handsome sumbitch on TV back there, acted some with some community playhouse bunch. Looks like a young, innocent Errol Flynn with a body like Ray Bolger. Don’t know a six-shooter from a six-pack. Perfect for the part.

DEBRINE: What’s his name again?

LENNIE: Wally Emerson.

DEBRINE: Never heard of him. Who’s his agent?

LENNIE: Me.

DEBRINE: You? When’d you get in the agent business?

LENNIE: ‘Bout an hour ago.

DEBRINE: Lennie, you been drinking?

LENNIE: Yeah. Some.

DEBRINE: Well, if you’re such a hotshot agent, why don’t you find something for that wife of yours? She was incredible fifteen years ago, and she still is. Or better still, that fantastic daughter—what’s her name?

LENNIE: Betsy. Betsy Rand.

DEBRINE: Yeah. I hear she’s almost got first dibs on that teenage series over at ABC—what’s it called?

LENNIE: Lori’s Homeroom. I think it’s a lock, or will be in a few days.

DEBRINE: Kid’s gonna be big.

LENNIE: Sure is. Too bad you ain’t directin’ it.

DEBRINE: Yeah. Tommy Einhorne’s got it—not my cup o’ tea.

LENNIE: Yeah. Stick with Westerns. You gotta take a look at this Emerson kid.

DEBRINE: How old is he?

LENNIE: Shoot, I dunno. South o’ thirty.

DEBRINE: Can he act?

LENNIE: ‘Bout as good as anybody else out here, I figure.

DEBRINE (after another pause): Lennie, I got people here from the network, and this really isn’t a good time. Why doancha call me at my office tomorrow, and we’ll see what we can do?

LENNIE: I got a better idea. Why doan we set up a audition for Emerson, an’ get some film on him? He’s only gonna be in town a few days, an’ he’s got a lot o’ other commitments to take care of—he’s supposed to have dinner with Terry Powell in a couple days, an’ Terry’s interested in him for a Playhouse 90 shot. (Lennie glanced over at Wally to shush him with a forefinger to his lips. Lolo shook her head, and Betsy rolled her eyes.)

DEBRINE (after a very long pause): Lennie, you are one colossal pain in the ass, biggest bullshitter I know—whether you get the dad part or not, you’re gonna owe me. I can’t promise anything, but ask him to show up Friday morning at MGM’s 37, eleven sharp. I’ll leave his name at the gate. What is it again?

After Lennie hung up the phone, he took a long draught of his Jack Daniel’s and looked over the edge of the glass at Wally. “Kid,” he said, and there was a gratification in his voice that comes only with having come out on the good end of a Hollywood conversation, “you’re all set. Audition an’ screen test. Friday morning.” He looked at Lolo. “Too late to drive him back downtown. And besides . . .” he jiggled the ice in his glass, indicating that driving was not a good idea. To Wally: “We got nine bedrooms upstairs; sure we can find one you’ll like.” To Betsy: “Go help him pick one out. Get him a pair o’ my pj’s outta my room. I wanna yak with your mom.”

“I can call a cab,” Wally said. “I don’t want to impose—”

“’Course not,” Lennie sighed, and if there was a hint of sarcasm in his tone it was disguised behind several Jack Daniel’s.

In the vestibule, before they started up the wide, circular staircase, Betsy took Wally’s hand in hers, and he felt the cool smoothness of her childlike grip. She started to say something Wally felt was going to be an apology, and he wanted to stop her, but she squeezed his hand with such a gentle force his attention was diverted. “You may be the best thing that’s happened to Daddy in a long time,” she said. “We all know he drinks too much, but he loves making things happen for other people—especially when it makes him look good. Even if you don’t get the part—which I can assure you, you won’t—he will feel great, you know, Dad will feel great because he finagled a screen test out of Trent DeBrine for you.”

As they climbed the stairs, Wally’s mind was nowhere near the audition for Rusted Spurs, a project he knew absolutely nothing about beyond the blurbs he had read in the “trades.” Instead he said, “I really don’t want to put you people out.”

Betsy scoffed. “We have eight people on full time staff here at Bar Amateurs: Kelvin the butler, Janice the cook, Patty and Lucille downstairs maids, Dody, Fanny, and Joyce upstairs, and Robert, who drives and takes care of the cars and oversees the pool and landscape people—Robert’s off on Mondays, or he’d have picked you up and taken you back. As Daddy would say, ‘you ain’t puttin’ nobody out but yourself, puttin’ up with this here menagerie more’n anybody should ever have to!’”

The guest room to which Betsy escorted Wally was more an apartment than a bedroom, and the décor was early Deadwood, South Dakota saloon; everything down to the lampshades and end tables appeared bespoken. Entering through a set of swinging doors off the main hallway twenty yards from the top of the stairs, there was a secure door leading into a small vestibule that opened to a living room with sofas, armchairs, round poker table, and a fully stocked bar; Betsy automatically left the secure door wide open in case Lenny or Lolo came up. Beyond that was a huge bedroom with a king-size bed, several overstuffed chairs, two armoires, and a giant picture window complete with panoramic views of the ranchland, the Simi Hills and Susana Mountains. The adjacent walk-in closet and marble bathroom were larger than the Emerson’s’ half a house in Buffalo. “Wow,” Wally muttered, “this is bigger than back home and my hotel room combined!”

“Consider it your pied-á-tere.”

“My who?”

“Never mind. I’ll fix you a drink,” Betsy said, “if you let me have some and promise not to tell Mom and Dad.”

As if he did not know, Wally asked, “How old are you, Betsy?”

“Twenty-three,” she replied,

Wally laughed. “Liar. You’re fourteen.”

“Closer to fifteen, actually.” Betsy disappeared behind the bar and located a bottle of Jack Daniel’s and a bottle of Canadian Club. “I’ll make you an Old Number 7 on the rocks if you’ll make me a CC and soda—and promise not a word to my parents.” She found ice and soda water in the small fridge beneath the bar, and Wally slid up on a stool, reaching for the Canadian Club. “Let me pour,” he cautioned, and tilted the bottle until a quarter inch covered the bottom of a low-ball glass. Betsy dropped in four ice cubes and sighed, “Your generosity with my father’s whisky is overwhelming.” She filled Wally’s glass with ice and at least two jiggers of Jack Daniel’s. “Mud in your eye,” she toasted, and came around the bar, sliding up on the adjacent stool. ”Open a can of Coke on the bar in case my parents walk in.”

Wally had never met anyone quite like Betsy Rand. At fourteen—not quite fifteen—she was an unusual chameleon who could be a teenager one moment, and then a mature woman of the world in the next. Her high forehead and ebony hair that cascaded down both sides of her sunny, scrubbed face bounced back and forth between a wide-eyed lost child one moment, and a femme fatale of focused and resolute determination the next—a paradox that brought Wally full circle from an adult frolicking with an amusing child to a swordsman fencing with a possible one-night stand. Ironically, he had played both roles many times in Western New York, and he had the penetrating feeling she had also on her own Stage of Life. He knew that one scream from her, despite the open bedroom door, would land him in jail for at least the next twenty years, which was as long as he would need to recuperate from the thrashing Lennie undoubtedly would give him.

“Aside from my father and mother,” she said, “who’s the greatest actor in America today?”

Wally pretended to think. “Hmmm. John Wilkes Booth?”

Betsy made a face that instantly went from distain to disgust to delight. “Be serious.”

“Okay. Jack Lord.”

“Jesus. You are such an ass.”

“Who then?”

“I would say Katharine Hepburn—or Spencer Tracy, depending if we’re talking about men or women.”

“I wasn’t talking about either.” Wally gave her a look of disbelief. Of all the actors in Hollywood and on Broadway, Katharine Hepburn was the last one Wally would have thought Betsy might bring to mind. Spencer Tracy he could buy—but Katharine Hepburn? He looked at her and tried to determine if she was pulling his leg. “Why would you even think of Katharine Hepburn?”

Betsy stared into her glass and studied her whimpish drink. “Well, for one thing, she was once in love with Howard Hughes. Or at least she convinced him she was, while he was in love with her. That would take a real actress. Howard Hughes was a nut case—you know, he once landed his airplane on a golf course just a she was teeing off, just so he could join her foursome, which was only a twosome, anyway. I think he would have married her in a minute if she’d have him, which she wouldn’t. Being a movie star is all she ever wanted to be. Of course, when Tracy came along, all she wanted to be was a movie star first and Tracy’s lover second.”

Wally ran his tongue around the rim of his glass, watching Betsy’s reaction, and wondered if that excited her. It obviously did not, so he asked instead, “Is that what you want to be?”

“Be what?”

“A movie star.”

Betsy did not answer immediately. And when she did, all she said was, “What else is there?”

“I don’t know,” Wally replied. “You tell me.”

Betsy leaned back against the bar’s edge, and Wally noticed her breasts, full and well developed for an early teenager, pressed against her Mexican blouse/smock in a seductively inviting way. “You know,” she said, in a contemplative tone, “out here, in Hollywood, it’s a lot like General Motors or Eastman Kodak . . . “

“How do you mean?”

“Well, this is like a big corporation, an American icon of industry—you know. There are literary hundreds of people, thousands, who work in Hollywood and make up this entire industry. At the top there are only a few stars—real stars, and they’re not just the actors—they’re the directors, who in many ways are even more important than the stars—and the writers and producers, the artists and seamstresses, make-up people, musicians, lighting technicians, cameramen and editors—crap, for every star there are probably a hundred thousand little people who do all the work and make the star look like a . . . star. And the star gets the big bucks. You know how much Spencer Tracy and Hepburn and Greer Garson make?” Wally shook his head. “Millions,” Betsy told him, “trillions. And worth every fucking dime.”

“What’d you say?”

“Sorry. . . . You know what I mean. I mean, they work like dogs and put up with tons of crap from everyone, especially from the producers and directors. They’re at the mercy of people like, you know, Sam Goldwyn and Billy Wilder. They earn every penny they get. Let me tell you, it ain’t easy.”

“But,” Wally asserted, “that’s what you want to be.”

“Right. A star. A superstar. I want to be as big as Katharine Hepburn and Betty Hutton. Joan Crawford. Bigger.” She paused just a heartbeat before she said: “Because I’m better.”

Wally put down his drink and frowned at her. “You’re better? Better’n Hepburn and Crawford?”

“Yeah. Better than Tracy, too, who might just be the biggest movie star who ever lived—despite being a stupid drunk. My dad drinks, but I’ll bet you never see him drunk. Tracy’s the only actor out here who drinks all night and screws more leading ladies than Errol Flynn knows exists, then shows up for work everyday, knows his lines, says them the way he wants—usually in one take—then goes out and drinks until he passes out and wakes up in the Beverly Hills Hotel with Hedy Lamar or Joan Bennett. Then he calls up Hepburn to come and get him so he can go back to work the next day and give everybody eight hours of acting lessons. Yeah. I want to be a star. Know why?” Wally shook his head. “Because I know going in, even before I get my first decent part, I will be a star. You see, most of them—even Tracy—they never really knew. All they knew was they had a chance. All Hepburn had was Philadelphia Story—all Hutton had was Greatest Show on Earth, all Garson had was Mrs.Miniver, all Caron had was An American in Paris—Crawford had Mildred Pierce . . .”

“What does Spencer Tracy have?” Wally asked.

Betsy thought for a minute. “He has Hepburn. And Adam’s Rib. And State of the Union. Boys Town. And—I don’t know . . . ”

“And all you’ve got,” Wally chuckled “is Lori’s Homeroom.”

“Yeah,” Betsy laughed with him, “a TV sitcom—for kids yet!”

Lennie entered the room just then, carrying a pair of pale blue silk pajamas. “How y’all like this place for some good ol’ American sleep?” Betsy quickly reached for the can of Coke and poured it over the remaining ice in her glass. Wally nodded his head in approval and said, “Most unique bedroom I’ve ever seen.” Lennie tossed the pajamas on the sofa. “Ain’t seen nuthin, kid, till you seen Gene Autry’s guest house—I should say houses, since they got like six of ‘em!” Betsy slipped off the bar stool as she said, “Oh, he will, Daddy. Day’s gonna come when ol’ Wally-boy here’s gonna be a reg’lar at ol’ Gene’s place.” With that she kissed her father’s cheek, waved to Wally by raising her glass of Coke, and disappeared beyond the swinging doors. “’Nite all!”

The ride back to Hollywood after breakfast the next morning was in the backseat of’ Lolo McCarthur’s Bentley driven by Robert, the all-purpose overseer. Robert was in his mid-fifties, a fitness fanatic Lennie kept on staff primarily for ergogenic purposes as a sparring partner and personal trainer. Well over six feet tall and supporting an icecap of wiry, bleached hair, Robert—until he opened his mouth—had matinee idol qualities that might have catapulted him into box office demand alongside Clint Walker and James Arness. Unfortunately, his voice was watery and thin, and his diction seemed corrupted by a pronounced impediment.

“I’m not sur I know where da Edward’an ‘otel iss,” he said, over his shoulder. Wally told him it was on Franklin Street, not far from Vine. Robert nodded and said no more the entire trip.

Wally had hoped Betsy would accompany them on the drive into town, but she claimed to have a tennis date in Beverly Hills and had taken Lennie’s Cadillac even before finishing breakfast. Wearing a loose white tank top and pleated tennis skirt, short and revealing above her knees, Wally noticed for the first time how petite she really was—small, yet compact with the sculpted legs of a ballerina, a wisp of a waist, and free, unobstructed breasts beneath the tank top, supported by wide, straight shoulders.

“Do you play tennis?” she asked, dipping a triangle of toast into her mother’s coffee.

“No.” Wally shook his head, and for the first time wished he could have answered in the affirmative. “Never had the opportunity to take it up in Buffalo.”

“Pity. Way of life out here,” she said. “You’ll have to take some lessons. Crap, I could teach you in a week. I’ve been trying to get Daddy to put in a couple courts for years. . . . Well, see you all down at the poolroom!” And she bolted out the door with a racquet under each arm and grasping a can of balls.

“We should have a court of our own,” Lolo murmured, adding, “she’s really quite good. I can’t beat her anymore.”

“Shoot, I never could,” replied Lennie, looking at Wally. “Sleep okay last night, boy?”

“Like a log. Most comfortable bed I ever slept in.”

Lennie grunted and sipped his coffee from a chipped, white mug—a piece Wally was sure had come with him years ago from West Texas. “Ever sleep in a hammock?” the older man asked. “Or a bedroll—with your saddle for a pillow? Outside, unner the stars?”

“Nope. Can’t say I ever did.”

“Shoot, you ain’t never had a good night’s sleep!” At the car, Lennie held open the door while Wally climbed in. “Don’t forget. Eleven sharp on Friday; MGM, stage thirty-seven.”

“What should I wear?”

“Shoot, come naked if you want. Don’t matter.”

“You going to be there?”

“What for?” Lennie slammed the door.

As the Bentley careened past The Rest Room on Vine, Wally asked Robert to stop and let him out. Robert pulled quickly to the curb and asked if they had somehow passed the Edwardian. Wally told him they had not, but he wanted to walk, needed the exercise. That was a good idea, Robert agreed, and they said good-bye. When the Bentley pulled away, Wally walked back fifty yards and entered the dim, sunless cavern of the neighborhood bar. Once again, even with sunglasses, it took him a moment to adjust his eyesight.

Isabelle Follett was sitting on her usual stool halfway down the mahogany strip. She was alone, chatting with the bartender. Wally slipped onto the stool next to her.

“Hey, Buffalo Bill!” she said, gaily; “Where you been? Wanna buy Annie Oakley a drink?”

“Sure thing. Miss me?” Wally came back.

“Yessiree—like an abscess tooth. I thought maybe you went home.”

Wally told the bartender to bring another of what she had in front of her, and for himself he asked for a vodka/rocks. He wondered how much he should tell her and said merely, “Had an overnight with an actor friend in the San Fernando Valley.”

“Yeah, you told me yesterday. But you said it was a dinner date, not a pajama party.” Isabelle looked at him suspiciously. “He-friend or she-friend—or both?”

Wally laughed at that. “A he-friend—strictly on the up and up.”

“I’ll bet. . . . And out here you just say ‘in the Valley’—forget the San Fernando stuff.”

“I didn’t know that.” Wally looked closely at Isabelle, as if noticing for the first time how pretty she was. She was wearing a frilly blouse and full skirt today, and her makeup was less severe; her hair was fluffy blonde, freshly shampooed and neatly combed. He made a mental calculation that if Betsy were a solid 10, Isabelle had to be rated at least an 8.5. “How do I know,” he wondered, “that you’re Isabelle and not the twin sister Beverly?”

The bartender, a fat, burly and bearded eavesdropper with a plastic nametag: RUSS, said, “She’s Isabelle.”

A drink and a half later, he decided to tell her all about his visit with the McCarthurs. When he finished, all Isabelle could say was, “Wow.”

“Yeah,” he concurred, “wow.”

Russ, listening in, wanted to get it straight. “Lemme get this straight,” he said, towel in hand and drying glasses, “you actually got a screen test set up with NBC for Rusted Spurs? And you actually met Betsy Rand and Lolo, her old lady?”

“And,” Wally reminded him, “the father, Lennie McCarthur. I even slept in his pajamas last night.”

“I always knew he was a fag,” Russ commented, dryly, smiling at his own sense of humor.

“Bullshit,” Wally sneered. “Takes one to know one.”

“Screw you.”

Isabelle wanted to know about Betsy Rand. “Is she as beautiful off screen? I’ve only seen her in a couple things, not big screen or parts anyone remembers. How old is she? I said twenty, but Beverly says she’s still in high school. What about her mother, Lauren—”

“Lolo,” Wally corrected.

“Yeah. Man, she’s gorgeous, too!”

“Betsy looks just like her. Only she’s about fifteen.”

“God, what a face . . . and body. Fifteen. Wow. When I was fifteen, I was a mop handle.”

Russ fixed them both fresh drinks. “So,” he said, “this audition—you up for it? Got any idea what you’re doin’? What you’re gonna wear? How you’re gonna get there?”

Wally stared into his drink as if all fours answers were hiding under the ice. Finally he said, “I have no idea.” He glanced over at Isabelle. “Can you drive me there?”

“Where?”

“MGM, in Culver City. Mid-morning, Friday”

“No,” she said, “you kidding? Way too much traffic. I don’t even know where Culver City is. . . . Why don’t you just take my car? Get it back by four. Okay?”

Wally regarded Isabelle in a new light. Damn, he thought, she is good looking; round and soft, her skin very cool and pale. What would she be like naked under a thin cotton sheet, the room lit only by idle California sun sliding through uneven Venetian blinds? Isabelle’s gaze suddenly locked with his, and with remarkable perspicacity she asked, “Are you thinkin’ what I think you’re thinkin’?”

“Yeah.” After a moment of constrained silence, Wally tossed some cash on the bar and slid off his bar stool, gallantly offering his hand to Isabelle as she slipped down beside him.

Russ, no longer interested, flung his towel over his shoulder and sauntered off to attend to three customers who had come in and sat at the far end of the bar.

Outside, Wally readjusted his new sunglasses as Isabelle handed him her car keys. “I’m parked out back, in the old Parking Lot’s parking lot,” she said, giggling self-consciously and grasping his hand in hers.

7

Trent DeBrine’s suite of offices at MGM was not large and definitely not ostentatious, as might befit a TV director and film editor of daedal instincts with two moderately well-reviewed big screen movies to his credit, and someone Samuel Goldwyn called “Trend” whenever their paths crossed, which was rare and never occurred at MGM or anyplace nearby—it is doubtful that Sam Goldwyn ever set foot inside the Culver City edifice that was identified with him in name only.

Occupying a far corner of the pentagon-shaped administration building at the front of the huge complex of studios and sound stages, the suite was comprised of three offices and a reception area, the latter housing cubicles for three secretaries. DeBrine, his A.D. and a first-unit director inhabited the offices. DeBrine’s office was the largest of the three, and it was cramped with a desk, a sofa, and four occasional chairs. That afternoon Lennie McCarthur and his wife sat on two of the chairs. Trent DeBrine sat at his desk; Josh Cambridge, the overweight, perspiring, and hirsute assistant director, stood leaning against the wall beside the one window. Somewhere, the hum of an air conditioner was a distant, white noise reminder they were in Southern California.

DeBrine, as athletic, well-proportioned and dour as Cambridge was fat and jolly, watched the McCarthurs with the pretentiously dogmatic air of someone who has something someone else wants, smugly listening while they pleaded their case for Wally Emerson and themselves. It was not as if Lennie and Lolo were strangers to DeBrine—they had worked together and known each other for years—but this was Hollywood.

“Look, Trent,” Lennie was saying, “this kid, Wally, he’s got something—I don’t know what it is—shoot, we see it all the time out here, ‘specially with Betsy around and working herself up for that Lori’s Homeroom TV thing. You should see some a the kids she has come in an’ do lines with her. . . . These kids got sumpthin in ‘em that comes out at the damndest times, like the camera’s rollin’ an’ nobody takes the time to holler ‘Cut!’—you know what I mean?”

DeBrine shook his head. “No.”

Cambridge said, “I do,” and DeBrine gave him a glance that told him to shut up.

Lennie turned and spoke to Lolo. “Tell him ‘bout last night,” he prompted.

“Tell him what? Lolo asked. “Just that we were having dinner, and all of a sudden the Rusted Spurs thing came up, and we both—all of us—just looked at Wally there, you know, did a double take, and we all thought the same thing at the same time: Freddy Lassiter—. There he was, sitting right there at our dinner table. Your search, the search, the hunt—it was all over. Just like that.”

Lennie nodded agreement. “Right as rain! There he was, sittin’ right there, plain as the nose on your face—even Betsy said so—like he’d jumped right off the pages of a script. Freddie Lassiter—all he needed was a plaid shirt an’ a pair a jeans. Even his hair is jus’ right! The kid’s a natural!”

DeBrine picked up a pencil from the blotter on his desk and waved it in the air. “Yeah,” he said, with no conviction. “They’re all naturals—every kid who steps off the bus from Des Moines. . . . Can he act?”

“Shoot,” Lennie replied, “that’s all he does do. I never seen a kid who never had no trainin’ tell stories an’ act up a storm like he does. You’re in for the treat of your life—“ he gestured to include Cambridge—“lives, when you all run a test on this young feller.”

“Spoken,” the director smiled, slyly, “just like an agent.”

Lennie groused, “I ain’t no agent.”

“I didn’t think so—you can say that again. But let the kid die and go to heaven thinking you are. That way,” DeBrine reasoned, “when we turn him down, you can tell him. . . . Tell you what you do—the day after his test, have him out at the ranch, and I’ll call up and give you the bad news. After I hang up, give him a stiff Jack Daniel’s and break it to him, either gently or otherwise. Tell him to go home and forget he ever saw the inside of a sound stage. Tell him to go back to Cleveland—“

“Buffalo,” Lolo corrected.

“Wherever—and he can go on being a big super star on local TV, and someday he can tell his grandkids how he auditioned for a TV series, and they were so blind and stupid out there in Hollywood they let him get away and hired some other asshole who went on to win half a dozen Emmys.” DeBrine tossed the pencil on the floor for Cambridge to pick up.

Lennie got up and reached for Lolo’s hand. “Trent, you’re in for one helluva surprise.” He turned to lead his wife out the door.

“Tell you what,” DeBrine said. “I know I won’t hire this TV guy for the Freddie Lassiter part, but what the fuck . . . if he can get through sixty seconds of a test without screwing up the dialogue too much, and he doesn’t talk through his nose, I’ll see if we can use him as an extra someplace in the pilot. A favor to you—old time’s sake. And if by some miracle you do wind up with the old geezer part—highly unlikely—you gotta promise me Lolo here will come on a half dozen times in the first year with a recurring role.”

Lolo stopped and looked back at DeBrine. “What sort of ‘recurring role’?”

“I got no idea.”

Lennie broke into a wide grin and walked across to the window, where he punched Cambridge hard on the shoulder. “You ol’ horse thieves got yourself a deal,” he said, “even if y’all are a bunch o’ goddamn lyin’ pirates!”

Isabelle Follett’s place at 38610 Western Avenue was a one-bedroom apartment on the first floor, identical to seven others in the eight-condo building. Condo, the nomenclature sadly misapplied to nearly every two-story structure in Hollywood, looked like five thousand other apartment buildings in Los Angeles: four units on each floor with a staircase in the middle leading to the top floor; the front walk, approximately nine feet in length, was protected by a wrought-iron gate that did not close all the way and was bordered by one stunted palm tree. There was space in the back for a dumpster and eight parking spaces. Isabelle and Beverly’s seven hundred fifty-one dollars a month abode consisted of a miniscule living/dining room, a kitchenette conveniently equipped with a sink, a stove, and a narrow Fridge, a bedroom with twin beds and dresser, and a tiled bathroom adjacent to a surprisingly ample closet. The bedroom window did not have Venetian blinds, but it did have rather thick and dusty drapes that when closed rendered the room dim, if not dark.

Isabelle lay on her twin bed modestly naked under a faded pink sheet. Wally was next to her, immodestly naked, atop the sheet.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“No need to be,” she replied.

Wally stared at the ceiling. Not once since his departure from Geraldine had he been unable to perform. Fornication with someone as warm and sweet, as lovely and willing, as Isabelle, should have been a mechanical performance, as routine as any of the occasions he had enjoyed with attractive Buffalo women—from college students to a post-middle-aged housewife who had joined the groupie troops a year ago. But today, even with the winsome and supple Isabelle quivering beneath him, he was unable to shake off the notion that Betsy Rand was watching disapprovingly from the small chair across the room. Betsy Rand? The effervescent, recalcitrant teenager—in all likelihood a substantiated virgin?. . . So what? Why did it matter?

“Damn,” he cursed, punching the pillow beneath his head.

“It’s okay,” Isabelle said, bright enough to realize the moment had passed. “You can still borrow my car Friday.”

* * *

Terry and Abby Powell had no children. They lived a quiet, almost studious, monastic and professionally attuned life in a small Brentwood house with three bedrooms, four bathrooms, a swimming pool adjacent to a lighted tennis court visible from the formal dining room picture window, a square living room with French provincial furniture and New England-style fireplace, and a modern, delightful ‘conversation pit’ with dense shag carpeting down two steps between the living and dining rooms. On one side of them lived Edmund O’Brien, his wife Olga San Juan, and their children; on the other was Brian Donlevy, eventually to marry Lillian Lugosi, Dracula’s widow. Terry Powell would laughingly claim to have bought his house in Brentwood to be sandwiched in by Academy Award winners and nominees.

As they drove in Powell’s Porche from the Edwardian to the Brentwood subdivision, Terry said, “I hope you don’t mind, but Brian Donley’s joining us for dinner.”

“Jesus!” Wally protested, “Why would I mind! Brian Donley—wow!”

“Yeah, well, he’s all alone right now, and he’s getting married next month to Bela Lugosi’s former, uh, wife.”

“He divorce her?” Wally asked.

“Nah. He’s dead. She drove a stake through his heart.” Powell laughed at this, then apologized. “Just kidding. Hollywood humor. I should warn you, though, Donlevy’s a chain-smoker—worst sort—blows smoke through his nose and in your face when he talks. Helluva nice guy, though. You don’t smoke, do you?” Wally shook his head. “Neither do I, not really. Abby does occasionally. A lot of people out here do . . . and a lot don’t. Filthy habit. Abby’s trying to quit.”

Powell had agreed to pick up Wally at the Edwardian when the young man from Buffalo explained he not only had no vehicle, he had no idea where Brentwood was or how to find the Powell homestead. “No problem,” Terry assured him. “There’s no public transportation to Brentwood, anyway. Just be ready at five-thirty, out front, and I’ll swing by. I have to be downtown, anyway.”

On their way through Brentwood, the warm late afternoon sun fading behind rows of palms on Salvador Lane, they turned into a subdivision of some of the most beautiful Hollywood homes, with exquisite landscaping, Wally had ever imagined. “This where you live?” he marveled.

“I’ve been very lucky,” Terry said. “Nothing sensational in the movies, you know—not anywhere near what brother Peter thinks I’m doing out here, but TV keeps me busy. Had four Playhouse 90’s last year and two Philco’s so far this. And Abby has worked in editing for three RKO projects since August last year. . . . So, you know Peter well?”

“Don’t know him at all—never met him.” Wally explained that a co-worker in Buffalo, John Reynolds, used to work with Peter Powell, Terry’s brother, at CBS in New York. Peter told John to tell Wally he should call Terry if he, Wally, ever got a chance to visit the West Coast. “So, that’s why I called you.”

Terry nodded and pulled into his driveway between two royal palms; for the first time in his life, Wally saw a garage door go up automatically, then close, as they parked in the huge garage. “I’m glad you did. Abby’s anxious to meet you.”

Terry Powell was a typical TV leading man: just six feet tall, light brown wavy hair, square jaw, piercing blue eyes, flat belly, well-modulated voice that was neither threatening nor demanding, the embodiment of every woman’s idea of a one-night stand—processor of every quality save one: the ability to deliver a line without it sounding like something written by someone else. If Powell could have believably said, “Fatso, either leave him alone or get ready to lose those stripes!” he might have been cast in From Here To Eternity rather than Montgomery Clift, who required so much money they had to reduce Lancaster and Kerr’s salaries to get him. As it was, Powell was a staple on TV’s best and worst dramas, usually as a leading man, occasionally in a well-paying supporting role.

Abby Powell, whom Wally met in the hallway to their kitchen, was as much a delight as Lolo McCarthur, though nowhere near as glamorous. She was a chubby, effervescent forty year old with a clear and charming voice, charmingly euphonious; Wally was reminded of a South Buffalo housewife he interviewed once after a heavy snowfall had collapsed her roof: “God sent me to the bathroom at the precise minute the ceiling crushed my bed!” Abby, a menthol filter tip in one hand, thrust out her other and said: “So! The Great East’s Hope for Rusted Spurs at last!” with the same blind enthusiasm Wally remembered from the South Buffalo housewife. “Brian is here already, having a drink in ‘the trench’,” which Wally would learn was what everyone called the Powell’s ‘conversation pit.’

She led Wally and her husband out of the kitchen and through the dining room. They stood two steps up at the top of ‘the trench’ and looked down at Brian Donlevy. The actor, drink in hand, a cigarette lodged in the corner of his mouth, reached up to shake Wally’s hand; Wally was amazed how small but docile Donlevy was compared to the mental image he had conjured from the last time he had seen him on the screen; he was quite trim and compact, his hair almost lacquered, and his moustache narrower than expected, hardly as neat as it always appeared on screen. He seemed years younger and somewhat timid, not in the least menacing—a vast change from his movie persona. His eyes, however, betrayed any gentleness he might possess: they were dark, rather sinister, squinty and devious, and when he looked at you, all his roles suddenly meshed.

All Wally could think to say was, “You were a filthy blackguard in Beau Geste.”

Donlevy laughed, and his hearty sneer was unmistakable. “Hah! Was I ever! At least the Academy thought so! Aren’t you people drinking?”

Abby scampered across ‘the trench’ to an impromptu serving cart, querying over her shoulder, “Wally, what would you like?”

Graciously, he nodded toward Brian Donlevy. “Whatever the great McGinty is drinking is good enough for me.”

Donlevy nodded approvingly and blew a shroud of smoke. “The young man knows his silver screen,” he commented. “Thank God, though, I wasn’t the dirty little coward who shot Jesse James.”

“We can thank John Carradine for that,” Wally said, and Terry Powell slapped him on the back, lighting up his own menthol filter tip. “No kidding,” Powell said; “I thought you shot him, Brian.” “Not me,” Donlevy assured him. “It was Carradine. I had a crappy part in the movie. I’m surprised anybody remembers it—we came out the same year as Gone With the Wind; I don’t think we made enough money to cover Ty Power’s bar bill at Shadow Lake in Missouri.”

Wally glanced at the cigarette in Powell’s hand. “I thought you didn’t smoke . . . ”

“I don’t,” Powell giggled. “Except when Abby does. She hates to see me smoking—I figure she’ll quit just to get me to quit!”

Once they were all scattered and seated on the floor and steps of ‘the trench’, Abby served vodka tonics for everyone except Terry who opted for a gin martini. Donlevy gulped down his original one and accepted a fresh one. “We’ve got to pace ourselves,” Powell cautioned. “The O’Briens expect us over for dessert.”

Wally looked up. “We’re going to Edmond O’Brien’s house?”

“Yes,” Abbey confirmed. “For dessert. They’re having a dinner party for a writer named, oh, I forget, Donnelly—or Connelly, or something like that—anyway, Warner’s bought his book and Stuart Housmann’s doing the treatment, so we’re all invited over later to meet him, or her, or whomever.”

Terry Powel tried to bring them all up to speed. “Wally’s having dinner with us because my brother Peter told him to look me up, and it appears Wally here has wangled a screen test for NBC’s new western series called Rusted Spurs. Seems ol’ Lennie McCarthur got involved and set the whole thing up with Trent DeBrine to test Wally here for the part.”

“Lennie McCarthur who’s married to Lolo Rand?” Donlevy asked.

“That’s the one.”

“Wow.” Donlevy sipped hi drink. “She’s the most dynamite-looking old broad out here.” Defensively, he raised his glass in Abby’s direction. “Present company excepted.”

Abby laughed aloud. “Is that what I am—an ‘old broad?’ Don’t be a jerk, Brian. Lolo’s a great actress; I’d be happy to just edit her scenes for Fox. Besides, you ever see their daughter Betsy?” At the name, Wally stared into his drink and could have sworn he saw Betsy’s face in the top ice cube.

“Jesus, Betsy and Joseph,” Donlevy tossed out, “is she beautiful or what?!”

Dinner with the Powells and Brian Donlevy was a delight. They sat at a small rectangular table in the dining room in the most comfortable, enveloping chairs Wally had ever known. From his side of the table, across from Donlevy, he could see the lighted pool and tennis court. Abby Powell and Terry sat at each end, and the dinner was served by Inez, the Powell’s’ cook and housekeeper. It was simple meal: lobster bisque and Club crackers, pork chops broiled beneath a sauté of tomatoes, onions, garlic and shallots. There were scalloped potatoes and asparagus florets; the bread was a French baguette—and that was it.

“Wow,” was Wally’s commentary. What he did not know was that Abby had instructed Inez to whip up something somebody from Buffalo could identify with. Wally—conversely—thought pork chops prepared that way was a California specialty. Donlevy and Terry both had two each.

“This part you’re up for in Rusted Spurs,” Donlevy asked, sipping his Merlot and lighting a fresh Chesterfield, “you ever done anything, uh, Western before?”

Wally shook his head. “Not really. I was the announcer and general kibitzer on the Fanny Gilroy Show for a couple years back in Buffalo. Fanny’s a country singer; even had her own band—the Sons of the Finger Lakes. I wore jeans and a plaid shirt, and I pantomimed playing a guitar that had kite strings instead of real strings—one of the band’s guitarists was playing off-camera. It was a lot of fun.”

“Do any acting?” Terry wondered.

“Yeah, some.” Wally put down his fork. “I did three community repertory theater shows—had the lead in all of them—but my work on TV and radio, you know, the weather, talk show hosting, commercials, news reporting once in a while, m.c.ing variety shows, kids’ shows, stuff like that—that was all acting, all make-believe. I had no clue what I was doing.”

There was a pause and no one thought of anything to say. Finally Donlevy said, “Well, I guess that pretty much summarizes what any of us do out here. Wouldn’t you agree, Terry?”

Terry was chewing a bite of pork chop and could not speak; he nodded his head enthusiastically.

“I think you’ll do just fine,” Abby chirped.

“I hear Trent DeBrine is directing the pilot and exec producing the first season’s episodes,” Brian Donlevy announced. “He’ll be a great guy to work for.”

“You know him?” Terry seemed surprised.

“Sure. He edited some of the early Dangerous Assignment stuff—in fact, DeBrine came up with the silly opening where the dagger comes outta nowhere and boinged itself into the lamppost beside me. I think that one little shtick kept us on the air a year after the show should’ve been dumped. He also worked as an assistant director on a couple of Rawhides and Wagon Trains I was on. He proves the old theory film editors make the best directors—especially for TV. Right, Abby?”

That intrigued Wally. “Why especially TV?”

Donlevy placed his cigarette in an ashtray next to his fingerbowl and started on his second pork chop. “Because no TV show that lasted ever got made without a super director. A regular movie needs ‘em, too, but not the way TV does. A movie starts with a script and a producer—then comes the star or stars, and finally they hire a director—usually somebody the star, or stars, worked with successfully in the past. TV hasn’t got time for games like that. Between the networks alone, TV needs thirty or forty shows a month—while Hollywood is lucky to finish one good movie every forty days. The heyday for the big screen is over—TV’s where it’s at. By the year 2000, TV will employ eighty thousand people out here and in New York, while movie studios will be scrambling to get a dozen shootable scripts a year.”

Abby said, “You sound optimistic.”

“Nope,” Donlevy assured her. “Just realistic. The art form is changing—the small screen is the challenge. Remember, to watch a decent movie and really enjoy it, you’ve got to go sit in a darkened theater that smells like stale popcorn, with a bunch of strangers. For TV, you sit in a well-lit living room with people you know, and if you want to go get a beer or go to the bathroom, well, you just go. Movies were made to tell stories that involve the audience, get inside you, make you think—and care. TV is there to pass time. By the year 2100, movies and movie theaters, as we know them today, will be long gone. When they re-make Gone With the Wind—which some confused genius or corporate giant who owns 20th Century Fox will stupidly insist on someday—it will be in six parts and shown on TV as a mini-series and sponsored by Coca-Cola or somebody. It will win a dozen Emmys for drama—or science fiction. People then will probably sit in their rec rooms and watch it on an electronic screen three feet by five feet and powered by flashlight batteries.”

Both Terry and Abby laughed at that, but Wally listened with rapt attention. This guy, Brian Donley, is no dummy, he thought. Sitting at dinner in Terry and Abby Powell’s modestly lavish home in Brentwood, sitting across from a movie and TV veteran of Brian Donlevy’s prestige and listening to him expound on the state of the industry, was an adventure for Wally Emerson unparalleled in his short career. For some reason, Geraldine Furk popped into his mind, and for a brief few seconds he wondered what she would have thought were she sitting there with them? Or, more to the point, what would they have thought of her? Then he wondered what was in his drink that had brought on such an absurd hallucination? Geraldine Furk! Abby Powell! Betsy Rand! Isabelle . . . My God, I’m losing my mind! The California sun! Lennie McCarthur! Jack Daniel’s! MGM! A screen test!

In the next instant, he visualized Betsy Rand at his side, and he could almost hear her debating, criticizing, and concurring with Donlevy’s thesis; that made much more sense. It suddenly occurred in that indurate instant that he had forever graduated from the ‘Geraldine era,’ never to return. And Isabelle was merely—frosting on the cake . . . Keep those clichés coming! He became suddenly aware that no matter the outcome of Friday’s screen test, he would never return to Buffalo and WGDN-TV! . . (Unless he had to.)

After dinner they returned to ‘the trench’ for coffee and postprandial drinks—“It’s too early to bust in on the O’Briens,” Abby determined. No one opted for the coffee Inez was prepared to serve, but they all welcomed the Irish Cream, Kahlua, and Courvasier waiting on the serving cart. Donlevy, Terry, and Abby lit up, and the four of them sprawled briefly like indolent slugs on the shag carpeting of ‘the trench.’

Donlevy looked over at Wally. “You’re not smoking. Have you ever smoked?”

“No,” Wally replied, pleasantly. “Not ever. Both my father and mother smoke once in a while, my mom more than my dad—as did my grandmother and aunts—all the old ones died of some form of cancer—lung, brain, liver. My folks are okay, so far. I guess I lucked out.”

Donlevy snickered. “Old wives tale, young man. Nobody gets cancer from smoking. You can put that in your pipe . . . Hah!”

After about ten minutes of inconsequential conversation and relaxed digestion, while Abby told them about a film she was helping edit at RKO, Terry drained his pony of Kahlua. “Drink up,” he commanded. “I hear people in Ed’s backyard.”

8

Edmund and Olga O’Brien’s house was two-thirds larger than the Powells’, more ornate and spacious, a stucco and wood Tudor replica of a townhouse they had once visited in Normandy; the entire backyard was a tribute, however, to Southern California—comprised of an Olympic-size pool, two tennis courts, and three cabanas. A large decorated belvedere sat atop an elevated knoll that afforded an unique view of the ocean in the distance. “Wait ‘til you see the studio in my basement!” O’Brien told Wally, with almost childlike enthusiasm; the actor, still trim and distant from eventual obesity, was dressed completely in white, his linen shirt open at the neck and displaying a tuft of pale chest hair while billowing loosely outside his white jeans and white deck shoes. There was a wide white buff wrapped snugly around his head, over which his abundant grayish brown curls drooped. Under a stream of lighted Japanese lanterns, Wally shook hands with his new host; the wife, Olga San Juan, resplendent in a Puerto Rican peasant’s dress with an elaborately crocheted bodice, embraced him, hugged him actually, and bussed his cheek. “Let me introduce you to some of the others,” she said, turning to the nearest guests. “This is Jean and Stuart Housmann . . . This is Leslie and Hugh Connelly . . . This is Iris and Kent Douglas . . . This is Annemarie Brenning and Peter Lorrie . . . This is Anne and Jim Gregory . . .”

Wally instantly recognized Peter Lorrie and James Gregory, and he wanted to linger and speak further with them, but Olga O’Brien ushered him quickly on. She said, in the gay twittering of a frequent hostess, “You can chat with Jimmy later—he’s being considered for Rusted Spurs, too, but everyone knows he’s much too old—God, is he ever!—not to mention too well known and—foreign-looking. Come. Have a drink with Ed and tell us all the lies Brian Donlevy told you about us at dinner!”

A permanent bar, under a red and blue striped canopy, was set up at the shallow end of the pool, and everyone eventually congregated there long enough to get—or replenish—his drink; and that was where Edmund O’Brien threw his arm across Wally’s shoulders and said, “So—welcome to O’Brien’s Oasis!—what would you like to drink?” Wally asked for a vodka/tonic, and the bartender, obviously a blond extra waiting for his Big Break, set it before the young guest even while Ed O’Brien was still talking.

“Sorry Trent DeBrine’s not here,” he said. “Olga invited him, told him to bring a date if he wanted, but he apparently had to run off quickly to New York and try and woo Katharine Hepburn with a movie script he wangled from Sidney Sheldon.”

Wally looked concerned. “Hope he’s back by Friday. I got a—”

“Oh, he will be, in plenty of time. How long you think it will take Hepburn to say no? Judging by what I hear through the grapevine, the only way you won’t get the part on Rusted Spurs is show up drunk and babbling in Chinese.”

Wally shrugged and sipped his drink. “Your wife says even James Gregory has a shot at it.”

“Hah! About as much a shot as me or twenty other guys!” He reached out and grabbed Terry Powell’s arm as he passed by. “Terry, I’m going to show Wally here my recording studio. Wanna come?”

“Sure.” The handsome actor switched his drink to his other hand and freed himself from O’Brien’s grasp. “Lemme tell Abby where I’m going.”

O’Brien led Wally, with Terry in tow, through sliding glass doors and into the house by way of the recreation room. Wally was amazed at the size, comparing it to the Powell residence and McCarthur’s ranch, and he commented on the vastness of what he assumed was the living room. “Got three kids,” O’Brien rationalized, “and Olga’s got a shitload of relatives. You know how them PR’s are!” Wally glanced in the direction of the formal dining room and noticed it was even larger. “This is not a house,” he said, almost too wide-eyed; “this is a mansion. Or a castle!” Terry Powell chuckled, “Kid’s never seen San Simeon!” O’Brien, laughing, steered them into the vestibule, a cavern more like Buffalo’s RKO Palace movie theater lobby—Wally was certain he smelled popcorn. “From here, we take the elevator,” O’Brien directed.

When the doors slid open, Wally realized this was no ordinary residential lift. This was as large as a passenger/equipment elevator one might find in a hospital, easily capable of carrying three gurneys and six doctors, not to mention a few anxious relatives. The walls were padded, the floor carpeted with a thick Berber, and Wally wondered if the stainless steel and chrome trim were sterile. “They had better be,” O’Brien joked, “or my acetates will be compromised!” Terry glanced at Wally, and the young man realized Terry wasn’t sure what ‘acetates’ were.

Ed pushed a lighted button marked SB—just below one marked B—and they were off. “We have two basements,” he explained; “a regular one with the AC and furnaces and pool crap and storage—then a sub-basement farther down, below that, where I built my studio. Wait ‘til you see it!”

“The only difference between Thomas Edison and O’Brien,” Terry suggested, “is that Eddy here invented money and never once had to recite ‘Betsy had a little lamb’ . . . or is it Mary who had those little lambs?”

At the very mention of the name ‘Betsy’, Wally experienced a sudden pang of loneliness that made no sense whatever. He wondered what she was doing at that precise moment.

The elevator, moving silently on some well-lubricated, mysterious cables and ball bearings, came to a soft stop, and the doors slid noiselessly open. As they did, infrared-controlled lamps came on, and the rooms beyond were illuminated with painfully bright floodlights—Kliegs, actually, suspended strategically about the ceiling—a half dozen or more.

“This is—extraordinary,” Wally whispered.

Terry nudged him in the ribs. “You ain’t seen nuthin yet!”

The immediate area they entered was the control room, O’Brien explained. He pointed out a multi-channel board and two record presses; near them was an array of acetate recorders capable of cutting two hours each of continual sound. Above the soundboard were four reel-to-reel tape recorders. With extreme pride, he indicated a giant 2-inch videotape machine asleep in a far corner. “It’s an Ampex prototype, an A-16-2000,” he beamed, “not even available to TV stations yet. Once it’s set up it will record video in color. Look over there.” He pointed to an RCA 7-4L TV camera with a four-lens turret resting on a mobile pedestal in the studio beyond the glass window of the control room. “Soon as we work out the bugs, I could shoot War and Peace in here! In fact, I gotta hurry—in just a few more years, film will be passé.”

“Pathé?” Terry quipped.

O’Brien ignored him. “Everything,” he said, “will be shot on videotape, stuff that looks and feels like audio tape, only way larger and capable of handling tons of material, including synchronized sound—and someday even that will be gone. There are guys up north of here working on cameras and silicon chips that will take pictures electronically, and film and videotape will be just a memory—housed at the Smithsonian, probably.”

Wally was mesmerized. Terry Powell looked for something in the racks of tape boxes covering three walls. “At least he got through The Red Badge of Courage without burning the place down. You still got it?”

“Yeah, it’s here someplace.”

Wally asked, “You filmed the whole book down here?”

No, O’Brien explained; what he did was take John Huston’s screenplay, the adaptation he did for the Audie Murphy film, and recreated the total story, including James Whitmore’s narration, as “a two-hour recording with sound effects and everything. He even did all the parts himself,” Powell added; “even Bill Mauldin’s and Andy Devine’s parts.” O’Brien nodded and modestly proclaimed it was no big deal. “The movie,” he said, “was full of errors—like the Union soldiers carrying 1903 bolt-action rifles and wearing kepis with crossed infantry emblems, never seen in real life before 1876. But it was a damned good script from a damned good book, and I had a lot of fun reproducing it as a recording.”

Wally said, “Jesus! I’d love to hear it!”

“Hell, I’ll give you a copy if I can find it,” O’Brien offered with feigned munificence.

They left the control room through an airlock sealed by two heavy doors and entered the studio itself. Aside from the TV camera in the corner, there was a bank of podiums beneath a battery of boom mikes, a desk with cardiac mikes snug behind dark gauze baffles, and an isolation booth behind a glass door. There were a number of director chairs, high stools and low backs, scattered haphazardly across the podiums. As many as ten actors could work simultaneously in the studio, along with live musicians if necessary. Powell told Wally it was all a gigantic waste. “O’Brien never rents this place out, would you believe! I think he comes down here just to hear himself talk—and talk and talk and talk and talk . . .”

“I record Olga and the kids down here all the time,” their host insisted.

“Whoopee,” Powell sighed.

Wally noted how odd their own voices sounded, and O’Brien nodded, knowingly. “You’re in an atmosphere,” he said, “of nearly perfect acoustics. The walls, floor, and ceiling are constructed of a pliant and resilient composite that absorbs sound and sends it back almost immediately. The air in this room is controlled at a density approximating the human ear, like if your ear was sealed in a vacuum one might find inside an all-encompassing headset—and since no such headset has ever been invented, what you hear in here is as pure as, as . . .”

“As a snow fall in a windless, primeval forest,” Powell finished for him.

“Well, yeah, sort of,” O’Brien laughed, only vaguely annoyed that Powell had finished the sentence for him with a profoundly picturesque simile; “sort of!” he repeated. The actor suddenly stopped and looked at Wally. “Hey, I got a great idea. Why don’t you and Terry here record a piece of dialogue, a scene or something?—and we can play it back and see if you’re any good—or just whistlin’ The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You—or something! Pick out anything at all, read a newspaper, sing a song, tell a dirty joke—whaddaya wanna do?”

Powell, with inspiration from nowhere, said, “You know what’d be good? How about a scene from Andy Hardy, where the kid has a heart-to-heart with his old man?”

“Yeah,” O’Brien agreed. But he cautioned neither should try to imitate Mickey Rooney or Lewis Stone. “Do the scene like—you know—like Freddie Lassiter and his dad—think of Lon McAllister and Lennie McCarthur, or maybe Victor McLaglen. Here’s the plot . . . Freddie’s a kid from the East who goes to live on his old man’s ranch when his mom dies in Boston—Freddie’s a real tin horn, but he gets involved with one hair-brained adventure after another and always saves the day at the end—”

Powell cut him off. “We know the plot, Eddie. Got any scripts?”

“Scripts?” O’Brien shrugged. “I got no scripts? Where would I get a script?”

They both looked at Wally. “Don’t look at me,” he said, and he realized he was laughing alone.

“Never mind. I got a better idea.” O’Brien suggested they simply ad-lib a scene, make it up as they go along. “Improv,” he said. “It’s ninety percent of what TV is all about, anyway. Just say whatever comes to mind.” Beating Powell to the punch, he said, “Here’s a plot idea . . .”

Less than fifteen minutes later, Edmund O’Brien was in the control room, and Terry Powell and Wally were stationed at podiums beneath boom mikes. “Okay,” came O’Brien’s voice over the intercom, “wait about ten seconds ‘til I’m up to speed in here, and when the red light above the control room window comes on, start the scene: Terry, you speak first; say whatever you think of. Wally, you just respond. . . . Get set.”

“Why do I have to speak first?” Terry groused. “That’s like I say ‘knock, knock’ and you say ‘who’s there?’ How the hellam I supposed to know?”

When the red light came on, Terry glanced over at Wally. “Freddie,” he said, softly, sounding a little like Johnny Mack Brown, “if ol’ man Johnson has his way, I’m gonna go to jail for a long time for shootin’ that rascal Pete Jones.”

Wally could think of nothing to say at first, but then he spoke up. “No, you ain’t, Pa . . ,”

POWELL: Your mom wouldn’t like to hear you say things like ‘ain’t’—she taught you better’n that—you bein’ a college graduate an all . . .

WALLY: You’re right, Pa, I gotta watch the way I talk. Ma said if anything ever happened to her, I was to come out here and take care of you. And that’s just what I intend to do. . . . I don’t think you meant to kill rotten ol’ Pete Jones when you shot him—

POWELL: Shoot, son, I nailed him right between the eyes! Right where I was aimin’!

WALLY: I think that was a lucky shot. I think you just wanted to scare him, make him back off.

POWELL: Well, he had a bucket of gasoline in one hand and a box o’ matches in the other—I think he was fixin’ to do me some bodily harm . .

WALLY (reaching up and snapping his fingers an inch from the mike): That’s it! That’s our defense! Justifiable homicide, based on self-defense! You had to shoot Mr. Jones—he was about to set the whole place on fire, and fry you with it! You had no choice. No jury will ever convict you when I get through with them—”

POWELL: You? Whadda you sayin’, son?”

WALLY: Don’t you see, Dad? I’m a graduate of Harvard Law School—all I have to do is pass the—what state do we live in?”

POWELL: Oklahoma . . . I think.”

WALLY: The Okalahoma bar exam—that’s what I need to pass—and I can defend you myself . . . Dad, when this trial is over, they’re going to elect you governor of the state!

The scene went on for well over fifteen minutes, and when they had finished, O’Brien turned off the recorder and snapped on the intercom. “So? What happened then?”

“No idea,” Powell said.

“I think,” Wally said, “the old man slapped him on the back and said, ‘Thassa ticket, Freddie; yore ma raised you—she didn’t just jerk you up! You was raised jus’ right!’”

O’Brien came into the studio; they felt the air pressure pop in their ears as the door opened and slowly closed. He walked over to the desk and picked up a telephone, punching a lighted key. . . . “Charlotte? . . Please send the kid back of the bar down here with a vodka/tonic and two Canadian Clubs and soda . . . And ask Mr. Lorrie and Mr. Gregory to come join us in the studio. There’s something I want them to hear.”

It was nearly ten when Wally awoke the next morning at the Edwardian, and almost immediately, from his bed, he dialed Lennie McCarthur’s number, hoping Betsy would answer. She did not, but Lolo did. In the next ninety seconds he told her all about his evening with the Powells, Brian Donlevy, the Edmund O’Briens, Peter Lorrie, James Gregory et al—“Have you ever seen O’Brien’s recording studio?” he asked, his voice creeping up half an octave with enthusiasm. Lolo said she had not, but Lennie had: “Do you want to speak with him? Oh, wait, he’s not here—he’s at Warner’s this morning; some thing Dane Clark needs him for.” Cautiously, Wally asked if Betsy had ever seen O’Brien’s studio. “I don’t think so—she’s not here, either. I can have Lennie call you later.” They talked a few minutes more, Lolo wanting to know what the ladies were wearing, what they had for dinner, and so forth—Wally responded courteously then eventually rang off, saying someone was knocking on his door. He immediately called Isabelle Follett; there was no answer.

After a shower and a bowl of cereal downstairs at the Snackerooney, he left the Edwardian and headed for The Rest Room. For the first time, Wally was conscious of the consistency of Southern California’s fabulous springtime weather; whereas Buffalo ricocheted between violent seasons ranging from gloom to despondency, Los Angeles, notwithstanding deep summers of smog, heat and humidity, seemed, at least in March, planet Earth’s most comfortable, brilliant, and soul-satisfying climate. Removing his sunglasses, he entered The Rest Room and, after forty seconds, saw Isabelle sitting at the bar talking with Russ, the bartender.

“Would you believe,” Isabelle was saying, “they are actually lowering our rent by twenty dollars?”

“Must be some new rent control law,” Russ speculated. “Hey, look who’s here! Buffalo Bill!”

Isabelle spun her stool fifteen degrees and held out her arms to Wally. “Hey, stranger, where you been?”

Wally stepped into her embrace and with genuine surprised accepted a quick kiss on the mouth. “Wow,” he said, “next time I’ll stay away more than twelve hours!” Without being told, Russ slid a vodka/tonic across the bar, and Wally gratefully scooped it up. Russ politely moved farther away to serve other customers.

“So,” Isabelle asked, “how was life among the hoy-paloy out in Brentwood?”

Sliding up on the stool next to her, he began at the beginning and told her, in minute detail, every aspect of his visit with Terry and Abby Powell and dinner with Brian Donlevy, followed with even greater elaboration, the remainder of the evening at the Edmund O’Briens.

“Gee,” she marveled, “they really got an elevator in their house down to the basement?”

“Yeah,” Wally confirmed, almost with genuine insouciance. “What’s important is that Peter Lorrie and James Gregory listened to the recording Terry and I made—and they really flipped over it!”

Isabelle, her lips a perfect bow, seemed perplexed. “I know Peter Lorrie, but who’s James Gregory?”

An hour later they were again in Isabelle’s apartment on Western Avenue, and this time neither bothered to pull the blinds to diminish the daylight that flooded the bedroom. It did no good. Naked on the twin bed Wally stared at the ceiling while Isabelle munched an apple she had brought from the kitchen.

“Is it me?” she wondered.

“Hardly.” Wally turned slightly and looked at her. “You are unquestionably one of the most gorgeous girls in Hollywood—even if you couldn’t find MGM on a tour map. It’s not you. It’s me.”

Isabelle chewed noisily. “Or it’s her—whoever her is. Or maybe it’s him. You a homo, like Russ? You happier if Russ was here rather than me?”

Wally made no response. He slipped off the bed and walked into the living room. From an end table near the sofa he lifted the phone and dialed the McCarthur’s number; this time Lennie answered.

“Have you got a copy of that recording?” the stuntman asked.

Wally was surprised. “You heard about it?”

“Yeah, Lolo told me. But I’d already heard about it over at Fox. I think O’Brien called everybody but Irving Thalberg.” Wally said he thought Thalberg was dead. “He is. An’ he prob’ly has an unlisted number, anyway. . . . Where you at right now?”

“Visiting a well friend.”

Lennie suggested they come over for cocktails. “You got a car?”

“My friend does. I’m not sure I remember how to get there. You always have cocktails at one o’clock?”

“Sure—why not? Ask your friend if he knows how to get here.”

“My friend’s a she.”

“Even better. If she doesn’t know where the Valley is, stop at a gas station. See you in about a hour.” And with that, Lennie hung up.

By the time Wally went back into the bedroom Isabelle was up and nearly dressed. She asked, “Who you talking to?” and he told her Lenny McCarthur. “Man,” she said, “you even got his home number?” Wally wasn’t sure if she was impressed or just being sarcastic, but he sensed her mood of curious disappointment remained cool and not in the least mean-spirited. “Lennie wants us to come out to his place for cocktails. You game?” Isabelle, in her panties and bra, pulled a thin cashmere over her head and said, “Me, too? Like this?”

“Sure. Why not? Nothing formal about the McCarthurs.”

“Where they live?”

“You know—in the Valley.”

“No, I mean, you know how to get there?”

“I think I remember,” Wally lied.

Isabelle took off the cashmere sweater and in her bra rummaged through the closet. She selected a smooth green frock, turned to Wally, and held it up in front of herself for approval. “It’s awful early for a cocktail party, isn’t it? I got to pick up Beverly and be to work by four.”

Wally looked at her and wondered to himself what difference it made if they drank at The Rest Room or McCarthur’s place? “You look great,” he said, and for some inexplicable reason, staring at her, he became aroused. Isabelle noticed but continued dressing, thinking, Whatever it is, it sure ain’t me.

9

Wally drove and it was nearly two o’clock when they finally moved beneath the tangled steel logo BAR ∩ AMATEURS and up the winding road to the McCarthur’s sprawling mansion with its white columns. Twice lost, they had gotten directions from a California State Trooper parked along I-5. Lennie was sitting on the porch, rocking back and forth with a Jack Daniel’s in each hand, and when they pulled up, he came off the top steps and passed one of the tumblers through the driver’s side window.

“Whadja do?” he growled, “come by waya Oregon?”

Once out of the car Wally introduced Isabelle to Lennie. “This is my good friend—Isabelle Follett.”

“Mighty glad to make your acquaintance, lil lady!” Lennie enthused, pumping her hand with his free one. “You a actress?”

“Nope. She works for a taxi company at LAX,” said Wally.

“Oh. Well. Shoot, you sure pretty ‘nuff to be a actress! Come on in!”

Lolo and Betsy were waiting for them in the library, and Betsy was the first one to jump up and cross the room to embrace Isabelle. “My—Wally never told us he knew such beautiful people in Hollywood! I thought he was bringing some old guy he knew from some radio station!”

Flustered, Isabelle said, “No, we just met the other day—in The Rest Room. Wally here just walked right in outta nowhere.”

“You met in the rest room?” Lolo, smiling but confused, came to her feet and shook Isabelle’s hand, leaning forward and brushing the younger woman’s cheek against her own. Wally quickly explained it was a bar and grill on Vine Street near the Edwardian. “Oh!” the McCarthurs all said at once.

“So, lil lady,” Lennie boomed, “what’s your pleasure to drink?”

Isabelle glanced at Lennie’s glass. “What’re you all having?”

Lolo said, “A Manhattan.” Betsy said, “Ice tea—laced with three sugars.” Lennie added, “Me an’ ol’ Wally here’s havin’ a Jack Daniel’s, only thing fit for man or beast. How ‘bout you, Isabelle?”

“Sounds good to me. I’ll have whatever you’re having.”

Lolo shot a surreptitious glance at Betsy who rolled her eyes. Lennie hollered out for the butler: “Kelvin!—bring us another Jack Daniel’s onna rocks for the purdy li’l lady!”

Seated for cocktails—Wally and Lennie in deep armchairs and the three women side by side on the wide sofa—Wally kept his eyes slipping back and forth from Betsy to Isabelle, both juxtaposed and sitting in coincidental positions that seemed to mirror each other. Although Isabelle was at least ten years her senior, Betsy, with certain tilts of the head, appeared the eldest; both were extremely lovely, their dark eyes set wide apart and mysterious—one, an ash blonde, and the other with auburn hair that blended a black sheen with a russet halo puffed out from her ears and settling into quasi bangs over her broad forehead. Their legs crossed and nearly touching, Wally notice their figures were similar to where they could easily have exchanged clothes and no one would have been the wiser. At five feet one inch, both weighed within an ounce of one hundred five pounds, and Wally wondered where, if anywhere, Isabelle’s twin sister would have fit into the equation.

“What’s so funny?” Lennie asked.

Wally, unaware he had giggled out loud, said, “I was just thinking how much Isabelle and Betsy look alike.”

“They do?” Lolo pondered, leaning back and glancing at the younger women. “I don’t think they look a bit alike.” Diplomatically, she added: “Isabelle’s much prettier.”

“Thanks,” Betsy murmured.

“No, I mean—more mature.”

“Well, I should be,” said Isabelle. “I’m twenty-six—almost twenty-seven. An’ I’m no actress, neither.”

Lennie said it was hard to believe nobody had ever walked into Schwab’s Drug Store and signed her up on the spot. “Where’s Schwab’s Drug Store?” Isabelle asked. Lennie turned to Wally and said, “They say that was quite a show you and Terry Powell put on at O’Brien’s last night. You sure you ain’t got a copy a the tape? Story I got is that Lorrie called Jack Warner this morning and told him all about you. Whadjew guys do—tell dirty jokes? Lorrie said it was the best thing he’d heard since Fonda blew his lines and adlibbed his big scene in The Grapes of Wrath.”

Modestly, Wally said, “All we tried to do was fake an audition for me for Rusted Spurs. If you ask me, Terry was super duper as my old man.”

“Hah!” Lennie snorted. “Not as—super duper as I’d be!”

Lolo turned to Isabelle. “You sure you never acted? I remember a girl who looked just like you had a walk-on and a couple lines in something that Orson Welles did—I forget what it was called, but I think Susan Hayward starred in it.”

Isabelle shook her head and her blonde curls sprayed about. “No, ma’m, sure wasn’t me. But some people back in school said I looked a lot like Susan Hayward. I never saw it, though.”

Betsy spoke up: “I don’t think Susan Hayward ever did any Orson Welles’ stuff.”

“Well, maybe it wasn’t Orson Welles.”

Lennie said, “Shoot, maybe it was you, Lo.”

“Maybe,” she concurred. “No . . . I don’t think so.”

As they drank and talked, Wally could not stop looking from Isabelle to Betsy. In his eyes there was no comparison; as sweet and lovely as Isabelle was, it was Betsy he saw as gorgeous, glamorous, and desirable. Betsy’s voice was educated and her thoughts were intelligent, whereas Isabelle’s comments, to his ears, were crude and ill conceived, uttered with no sense of language, timing, or purpose. Unconsciously a victim of Occam’s razor, he stared at Isabelle and saw her compliant and naked, without a shred of clothing or morality, as she had twice been on the twin bed in her apartment; his attention shifted back to Betsy, a simulacrum; and he was suddenly embarrassed and uneasy and unable to comprehend why. The vision was unwanted though simultaneously hoped for, but try as he might, it would disintegrate into thick smoke in an instant when his eyes lingered licentiously on Betsy. My God, she is so—pure! So . . . virgin . . . virginal! Unsoiled—unspoiled! Every inch of her a creamy confection! The word nubile suddenly plunged into his brain, a word with which he was familiar because he had used it a few times in news stories: “The victim was, even as a teenager, quite nubile.” The word spun inside his head like the steel ball on the rim of a roulette wheel. His number was 00—nubile, and it paid 35 to 1! . . nubilenubilenubilenubilenubilenubilenubilenubilenubile . . .

Lennie’s voice brought his erotic reverie to an end. “I’m going with you,” he said. “I spoke to DeBrine in New York last night—it was only six there, an’ it was dark already!—anyway, he agreed we should audition together. I told him there had to be, you know, chemistry between the kid an’ the old man, an’ he agreed. No sense havin’ whoever gets the part tryin’ to match up with some ol’ geezer nobody’s gonna believe is your ol’ man, anyhow. Besides, you get any stunts tossed atcha you might get hurt with, you’d be better off with me around to either do ‘em for you, or teach you how. Know what I mean?”

Isabelle wanted to know if Wally would still need her car. Lennie shook his head and told her he’d pick him up, and they could go out to MGM together. “It’s gonna look better for him if he pulls up inna Bentley or the Cadillac with me in the back seat an’ Robert drivin’—shoot, you know how it is out here, Isabelle, no offense . . . ”

Isabelle sighed with obvious relief. “S’okay by me! My old Chevy’s on its last legs, anyhow, and speaking of which, I gotta be to work by four and give the car to my sister when she gets off.”

Lennie glanced at his watch. And Lolo looked over her shoulder at the grandfather’s clock near the library door. “Shoot,” Lennie said, bellowing again for Kelvin, “we got time for one more for the road. Kelvin!”

Lolo wanted to know what Isabelle’s sister was like. “Same age as me,” Isabelle said; “should be since we’re twins . . . but we’re not identical, not that kind. No—come to think of it, she looks more like Betsy here than I do! No kidding. I just noticed. She really does! ‘Cept for the freckles.”

When they were on the porch and saying their good-byes, Betsy took Wally’s drink from his hand while Isabelle handed hers to Lolo. “I got a great idea,” Betsy said. “It’s so late, Isabelle and Wally should go right on down to LAX, so I’ll have Robert and me follow them, then I can bring Wally back into Hollywood and drop him off. That way, they won’t have to stop with him at his hotel, and Isabelle will get to work on time. They can follow Robert and me and avoid going through town and save a lot of time. Good idea?”

“Shoot,” Lennie mumbled, “we got time then to have another drinky-poo!”

Wally thought it was a grand idea—not another drink, but having Betsy follow them into L.A.. “I’d be willing to treat you to dinner,” he said to Betsy—“if it’s okay with your folks.” He looked from Lennie to Lolo, and if either had any objection it remained unspoken—yet somehow he knew neither was thrilled by the idea. Lolo, with only a mild reproach in her tone, instructed Wally to make sure “my daughter comes home right after dinner.”

From the Valley it was a direct shot south on I-405, and they were in LAX’s huge complex at ten ‘til four. They parked in the lot reserved for H&V Taxi; Wally handed over the keys, pecked quickly at Isabelle’s cheek, waved good-bye, and slipped into the backseat of the Bentley beside Betsy.

Robert looked over his shoulder. “Where to now, Miss?”

Betsy placed her hand over Wally’s and offered, if somewhat prematurely, “Your choice, Freddie Lassiter. Where do you want to eat?”

Wally shrugged without removing his hand. “Only place I know of is The Rest Room.”

That made Betsy laugh. “Not a prayer. How about Hatton’s—or La Rue—or Musso and Frank—or Marcel and Jeanne’s.”

Robert, from the front, suggested Musso and Frank, as it was not only the closest to Wally’s hotel, it was famous for several delights: videlicet, arroz con pollo, olla podrida, and carne asada. Wally, having no knowledge of the others and trusting Robert’s familiarity with the territory, quickly acquiesced: “Musso and Frank’s it is.”

“No ‘Frank’s’,” Betsy corrected. “Just ‘Frank’.” She pulled her hand away, and Wally said, “Gotcha. Just ‘Frank’. We must be frank, at all costs!” Betsy looked at him askance.

They entered the plain, nondescript establishment from the parking lot behind the low, single story building, through the back door and into a dim, crimson den of high-backed, semi-private booths with red faux leather upholstery. Robert left them and moved toward the kitchen, where drivers and valet parking attendants congregated; from there, he phoned Bar Amateurs and told Lennie where they were, and he’d make sure they came right home after dinner. Betsy paused at the maitre d’s podium and Wally came up short behind her as the suave gentleman in an immaculate tuxedo greeted them. “Ah, Signorina McCarthur—and her charming companion! Do we have a reservation for tonight?” Betsy leaned forward and brushed the maitre d’s’ cheek with her own. “I believe my father called in earlier.” The maitre d’ examined his thick book. “Non niente! No da tutto che è santo. No. I see nothing.” Betsy sighed. “It may have been my mother. Or Robert—or Kelvin . . . Oh, shit,” the fourteen year old starlet said sharply, “what difference does it make? It’s only five-thirty and you’re damned near empty.” The maitre d’ blushed and closed his book. Wally, remembering a similar scene from a Cyd Charisse movie, mentally calculated that he had about three hundred dollars in his wallet. He was on the verge of getting it out and fishing for a couple of dollars when Betsy said, “We’d like table number twenty-eight, my father’s favorite.” The maitre d’ hesitated a fatal moment, then snapped his fingers: a waiter appeared from nowhere. “Guiseppe,” commanded the maitre d’, “please take Signorina McCarthur and her escort to table ventquattro. And make sure there is a bottle of Barolo for the gentleman, open and breathing for them, with compliments of Mister Musso and Mister Frank! . . Please; follow Guiseppe. Mangiare bene!”

When they were seated and the candles were lit, the wine poured (in both waiting glasses,) and warm breadsticks spread before them with olive oil and balsamic vinegar carafes placed within easy reach, Wally asked how she had pulled this off. “I don’t know,” Betsy said. “I guess it’s just the basic difference between Hollywood and—I don’t know, Muncie, Indiana. Out here, you say things like everyone expects you to, you assert yourself, don’t take any crap from anybody, especially people not in the business—and in Muncie or wherever, you walk around sucking your thumb and saying nothing—and nothing ever happens. It’s all acting. That’s what acting is: saying things everyone expects you to at the precise moment they don’t expect it, and getting things done that no one expects, making things happen. That’s why there are stars and there are wannabees, queens and drones—people who want to be stars and those who never can be. It’s all in how you say the lines.” Betsy poured some olive oil onto her bread plate and added a few drops of vinegar; breaking a bread stick in half, she swooshed the edge in the thick liquid and made a pattern. Wally copied her, but his pattern was not nearly as symmetric. “Wow, this is great!” he enthused, licking his lips; Betsy was certain he had never before tasted bread that way, but she silently admired his sense of gustation. “What do you mean,” he asked, chewing and savoring, “it’s ‘how you say the lines’?”

Betsy sipped the wine before answering; Wally looked furtively over his shoulder to see if the waiter—or anyone—was watching. No one was. On one hand, the legal drinking age in California, he suspected, was twenty-one, as it was in New York, and he had momentary fears of being hauled away by a platoon of law enforcement officers on charges of—of what? Corrupting the morals of a minor? . . . On the other hand, he was intrigued by the way she delicately held her wine glass by the stem with just her thumb and forefinger, a mere quarter inch below the bowl, her lips, naturally more ruby than the wine itself, covering barely enough of the rim to allow a sliver of the Barolo to slip inside her mouth. Very sexy! Wally thought. Aloud he said, “If they knew how old you were, they might think twice about serving you alcohol.”

Betsy smiled at that. “If they knew how old I am, they’d be too busy wondering what I’m doing here with a fossil like you.”

“There,” Wally said, “that’s what I mean. How would you say a line like that if it was in a script, in a scene?”

Betsy shrugged. “I don’t know—just like that. That way. Slowly, deliberately—the humor, if there is any, is in the second part of the phrase— ‘here with a fossil like you.’ The rest is an after-thought, a throw away, like used bubble bath water. Have you ever watched a real actor, a star work on the screen? Notice how they deliver every line as though they just thought of it that precise minute? ‘Thought’ is the operative word. No actor just spits out a line; they think about it first. Even when they’re just sitting around chewing the fat . . . Think for a minute how a real actor would say ‘Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.’ Say it out loud with the proper inflection and accent—or see it written down the way I just said it, and the sentence is a perfectly charming and grammatically correct sentence—it’s an example of how homonyms and homophones can be used to create crazy and complicated vocal and written exercises. Of course, no scriptwriter in his right mind would ever write such nonsense into a screenplay, but watch great actors—like Tracy and Hepburn together sometime. Everything they do together, every word they say to each other, is thought out—choreographed—so it all fits together like . . . like the couple yakking at the next table.” Instinctively, Wally glanced at the table to his left; there was no one there. “What I mean,” Betsy went on, “is we do this in class all the time—no real star ever says a line until he has thought about it and said it in his head. “Jimmy Stewart is a master at it. So is Fred MacMurray. My dad and mom do it all the time. Watch Spencer Tracy in his close-ups; he looks like he’s listening to Hepburn or Pat O’Brien or Mickey Rooney or someone else off-screen, but what he’s actually doing is listening to the response he’s about to make inside his head, in what they call your ‘inner ear’. Then when he finally delivers his line, it’s perfect, just the way he wants to say it, just they way he should say it. All the big stars do it. It’s called ‘acting’. And it’s what I want you to do when you test for Rusted Spurs. Think each line in your head before you say it. Think how Cary Grant or Joseph Cotton would say it—but don’t try to sound like them—don’t come off like some third-rate epigone.”

“A what? You know, for a kid you’ve got one hell of a vocabulary.”

“Think so? Out here you’d better have a broad based lexical—especially with agents and producers. Most of ‘em can’t spell ‘English’, let alone speak it.”

“Yeah. . . . What’s ‘epigone’ mean?”

“Like an impersonator—just say it like you just thought of it for the first time. In your own voice.”

Wally asked, “It is that what you do?”

“Yeah, sure. Like I said, we talk a lot about it in school—that’s one big advantage to going to classes at the studio and not some regular high school, we talk a lot about acting and actors and how we’re going to all be stars someday. But I really am—you know why? It’s because I always think a line through before I say it. Always. Mom and Dad taught me when I was just a kid.”

Wally laughed at that. “What are you now—a woman of the world?”

“Hell no!” Betsy said. “But I am going to be a star!” Wally believed her. “What grade are you in?” She told him ninth. “I’ll be what you’d call a sophomore next year. Then a junior, and senior, then I’ll graduate.” He asked her what college she wanted to go to, and she said, “UCLA, if I go anyplace—it’s where Mom went, but frankly I don’t think I’ll have the time. By then, I’ll either be set with my own TV show, or I’ll be making movies during the off-season—and college would be such a waste of time. I’d like to go to New York and study with Strasburg or Lydell for a couple years, though, and do a few plays now and then.”

“You mean real theater, like Broadway?”

“What do you mean, real theater? You think movies and TV aren’t real theater? I’m talking like the Hepburn and Mary Martin and Agnes Morehead thing, where they do plays when they feel like it, even Shakespeare and Shaw and other heavy stuff, then come back and make a few movies and get paid gobs of money. . . . I don’t know. It all depends on the roles you get, and what your directors do with you, how they—mold you. It also means how you handle kinesics—”

“There you go again.”

“It means what you do when you’re not talking. You know, body language: shrugs, eye movement, what you do with your hands. Acting has many cognate cubbyholes.” She looked at Wally, waiting for a remark which never came; she continued: “Remember, when you’re a star you just get things, people make things happen for you. Like Doris Day—great voice, great body, great talent—and a great brain! She has a clause in her contracts that says she keeps every stitch of clothes she wears in a movie—if she wears it, she owns it. Super stars have a, uh, preternatural talent. . . . Simple as that.”

Wally had a prevenient sense that she enjoyed lecturing him on stardom and the theater and the idiosyncrasies of its stars, especially when they both knew she was right and had a genuine feeling for what she was talking about, even if he couldn’t always keep up with her vocabulary. Although not yet fifteen, Wally would have believed anything she said. His idée fixe was complete. She was the most—apodictically confident—person he would ever know. He smiled inwardly at his own erudite conclusion.

Betsy examined the menu. “I don’t know how hungry you are, but I’m starved. I’m going to order for both of us. That way, I can eat whatever you don’t.” She glanced up at Guiseppe, the waiter, who had reappeared unnoticed, pad and pencil in hand. “Calamari, for starters,” Betsy said. “Two warm tomato soups—it always has just the right hint of umami—”

“I’m sure it does,” Wally interjected, beneath his breath.

“And,” Betsy continued, ignoring him, “spinach salads—then I’ll have the Penne Arrabbiata and my friend will have the Raviolo al Pomodoro. I don’t know if we’ll have dessert, but if we do it’ll be the—let me see—the tiramisu. And bring us a bottle of Masseto—”

“Signorina . . .” the waiter started, moving one hand in a casual protest of feigned frustration.

“No, no, Guiseppe—not for me. For my friend here. . . .” She reached over and ceremoniously poured the remainder of her barely touched Barolo into Wally’s glass. “Your license is safe. Besides, it doesn’t take an oenophile to know that 1952 was a crappy year for Barolo.”

Wally asked what she honestly thought his chances were at MGM on Friday. “Somewhere between slim and none,” she clichéd, suggesting they look at it realistically. “As David Niven would say, ‘your ill-achieved screen test will generate a quantal response: either you’re in, or you’re out.’ Smart money says you ain’t got a prayer.” Betsy knew, as anyone who’d been in Hollywood would know, the odds were not in his favor, his youth and good looks notwithstanding. His only hole card, such as it was, was Lennie McCarthur. Lack of experience was his biggest deficit—also Trent DeBrine’s reputation for rarely gambling on unknowns. “That—plus nobody knows if you can really act or not.”

“The recording I made with Terry Powell—” Wally began.

Betsy waved her hand. “Recording, skamording. You both were drinking God knows how much all evening, and you ad libbed some nonsense into a microphone to impress Mr. O’Brien, who my dad says would be impressed with Nelson Eddy singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”

“Peter Lorrie—”

“Another great critic. . . . You know something? No movie would ever get made if the people out here were not kissing each other’s ass every chance they get. Or screwing each other’s wife or girlfriend or co-star. And it doesn’t matter how big you get, or how big the other actors you work with are—eventually, you’re going to get into each other’s pants. Look at Clark Gable, the so-called King of Hollywood—he could have any role he wanted. You think he woulda got Rhett Butler if he wasn’t Clark Gable first? He had a kid with Loretta Young, for cryin’ out loud, and everyone knew about it. He’s banged every star from Doris Day to Myrna Loy to Marilyn Monroe. He’s a bigger swordsman than even Errol Flynn. Spencer Tracy jumps on every co-star he works with at least twice for every time he dallies with Hepburn—all the time drunk as a skunk and married to someone else, for God’s sake. Nobody’s immune out here—well, maybe Jimmy Stewart and Paul Newman, but I think that’s only because they never get caught. Maybe they just don’t fool around. Maybe they’re real men—like my dad. I don’t know.”

During the calamari, Wally steered the conversation away from himself and wanted to know more about Lori’s Homeroom. Betsy showed little modesty when she told him her selection for the lead was all but certain; a contract was being formulated and would be signed by the end of next week, if not sooner. She explained the biggest holdup was over money, “as it usually is,” she said, “even though Mom and Dad both think five thousand dollars per episode is satisfactory at this stage in my career. I wanted eight thousand, but we’ll settle on five with a guarantee of six shows and an option for eight more at seven grand per if the show gets renewed for the second half of the season. If we go into a full second season, I want ten per show. You should get the same. Who’s going to represent you?”

Wally said he had no idea. “Your dad told Mr. DeBrine he was my agent. Then he said he wasn’t—then he said he was. I don’t know. Maybe that’s why he wants to go with me Friday.”

“In a pig’s eye,” Betsy scoffed. “He’s no agent. He just wants to audition for the role of Freddie’s dad, and he figures he’s got a better chance to look good with you around looking bad. You’d be better off representing yourself. If DeBrine offers you the part—which he won’t—tell him you want eight thousand per episode. If he really wants you, he’ll offer you four. Hold out for five for six shows. It’s pretty much standard for TV. You can always get an agent if the show’s any good. We’ll fix you up with CMI. Shoot,” she said, sounding like Lennie, “the show’s any good, they’ll come looking for you!”

Wally’s head was swimming, and he wasn’t sure if it was the Jack Daniel’s earlier or the Barolo or the Masseto. Or the talk about Lori’s Homeroom and Rusted Spurs. His best year at WNGD was last year, and he grossed $72,000; Betsy was talking about $94,000 for thirteen weeks’ work! God only knew how much if the show went for more than one season!

“Are you going to come out Friday with your dad and me?” Wally asked.

“I don’t know. Maybe.” She put down her fork and looked at him. “You want me to?”

Wally thought, I’d be happy if you could be with me every minute for the rest of my life! “Sure,” he said, “if you want to.”

Stuffed, too full to even think about it, they declined dessert. When Guiseppe discreetly placed the heavy leather wallet containing the bill on the table between them, Betsy quickly scooped it up. “You get the tip,” she said, quietly. “How much should I leave?” Wally wondered, groping in his hip pocket for his wallet. Betsy did a mental calculation. “Leave him thirty-five dollars. That’s about twenty percent.” Wally bit his lower lip and came up with four tens. “That’ll cover it,” Betsy said, as she pushed back her chair.

Betsy signed the tariff and asked the maitre d’ to retrieve Robert from the kitchen; Wally noticed she slipped him a folded bill, which he placed in his pocket without looking at it. In the car, Wally asked her how much she had tipped the maitre d’, and she replied, “Just a token—he did get a table for us without a reservation, and don’t kid yourself, that Barolo was strictly for you—he knows how old I am. Next time you walk in there, he’ll kiss your cheek! . . . Of course, you’ll have to bend over.”

When the Bentley pulled up in front of the Edwardian, Wally glanced at his watch and wondered if he should ask Betsy inside. It was only just after nine, but before he could say anything, she asked, “They got a pool here?”

“I don’t think so,” Wally replied.

“Too bad. . . . Let’s go, Robert—I want to have a swim before bed—I feel sweaty. I always do after I eat in an Italian restaurant. I bet they put monosodium glutamate in the Arrabbiata. Goodnight, Wallace. . . . By the way, is that your real name? Wallace Emerson?” Wally said it was. “Stick with ‘Wally.’ The Emerson is okay, but Wallace won’t cut it. Sounds too much like Wallace Beery, the fat old slob.”

Wally started to get out of the car. “How about Lew Wallace?”

“Who the hell is he?”

“A Yankee general. He wrote Ben Hur. I was named after him.” Doris Emerson, Wally’s mother, was by no means a Civil War buff, but someone, knowing she liked to read, as evidenced by the two Reader’s Digest Abridged Books proudly displayed on an end table in the Emerson’s living room, had given her Wallace’s novel for Christmas, 1930. Although she read no more than the first three pages, and had no idea the story had nothing to do with the Civil War, Wally confided, “Naming her first born—and only son after someone as profound and dynamic as Lew Wallace was probably a good omen.”

Betsy laughed at that and leaned forward, her jocund mood now its most exuberant, and took his head in her hands, kissing him full on the mouth. “Sleep well, you old fool,” she said, and slammed the door as he stepped to the curb. Excited and aroused, Wally thought she tasted slightly of marinara sauce.

10

There was a message in an unsealed envelope under the door as Wally entered his room at the Edwardian. It was scribbled by Troy, the on-duty desk clerk: Please call me if you get this before 11. 310 678 2997, ext 13. Isabelle He tossed the paper on the desk and looked inside the small refrigerator in the alcove beside the armoire, hoping there might be a liquor mini-bottle or at least a beer inside. All he found was a half tray of very old ice cubes. He closed the refrigerator door and sat down at the desk, lifting the giant Los Angeles telephone directory from a shelf beneath. In the yellow pages Hotel/Motel section, he located the Beverly Hills Hotel, and when they answered he asked for Miss Genevieve Rachmann, only to be told she had a “hold” on her phone. “What does that mean?” he asked, agitated. “If you wish to leave your name and number, I’ll see she is aware you called.” He gave the operator his name and the Edwardian’s number, and hung up.

For a few minutes he sat still and fingered Isabelle’s note, finally tossing it aside and getting up to walk across the room and stand before the full length mirror on the closet door. In no great hurry, he removed his clothes down to his socks, stepping out of his loafers and tossing his shirt, pants, and boxer shorts on the bed until he stood naked, staring at himself in the mirror. As always, he was not pleased with his body. Thin legs and, to his mind, grotesquely knobby knees supporting a long and wide torso with little muscle tone, his bare chest hairless and pale, transparent over a xylophone of undulating ribs as he breathed. He glanced at his genitals and wished his penis was thicker, fuller, longer. . . . He looked up and imagined he could see his heart beating inside his chest. He also began to imagine Betsy materializing beside him, an eidolon of gossamer, psychedelic liquid initially, an undulant outline, then filling in with colorful dense reality; he moved slightly to his left, giving her more room. She looked up at his face, and in the mirror he watched her examine him; she seemed to agree he was handsome in a theatrical way—light brown, wavy hair, a drooping pompadour over a slanting forehead and above a nose slightly larger and more pronounced than normal; his eyes, a deep brown, matched his wide mouth with set purpose and focused determination. He watched as she, too, methodically and slowly looked away from him and without any hesitancy of false modesty removed her clothes, item by item, and together they were naked side by side. He saw how petite she really was. At five foot one she barely reached his right, sloping shoulder; he was seventy-four and three quarters inches tall, more than a foot taller than she, and she seemed so tiny and delicate next to him—her smile gave her child’s face a more mature, yet still babyish youthfulness that would be her trademark for decades to come. Her breasts were remarkably full and firm, the nipples erect, blunted like erasers at the ends of large pencils, and pointing slightly upward from the center of two medium areolas still pale, faintly russet. He glanced down below her belly button and admired the silken nest in which lived the vague, dark lacuna between her legs. Aware that he was now acutely aroused, he took her wrist and, with no resistance, guided her hand to help her masturbate him.

Vodka – Jack Daniel’s – Merlot – Barolo – Masseto . . . alcohol’s the delightful stimulant of desire and the willing contributor to depression, the Novocain of performance —and my soul is tattered with clichés . . . I can never drink again, not like this, ever . . . Geraldine – Genevieve – Isabelle – Betsy – Betsy –Betsy –BetsyBetsyBetsyBetsyBetsyBetsyBetsy . . .

Embarrassed, he suddenly stopped; one more haptic thrust and he would have ejaculated; he somehow sensed she would not like that, would have reprimanded him for his lack of self-control—would have found it disgusting and unprofessional—pedestrian. Instantly, the phantasm evaporated as though the wizardry itself was drunk and exhausted, and Wally, his face feverish, stepped away from the mirror, flustered and uncomfortable, his libido no longer whetted or amused. He glanced nervously about the room to be certain he was, in truth, alone; satisfied that she was gone he retrieved his shorts and slipped into them.

He sat again at the desk and picked up the telephone, calling Isabelle’s extension; she answered on the third ring. She said she was sorry to bother him, but her sister Beverly was picking her up at eleven, and if he wanted to he could join them at The Rest Room around midnight: “Beverly would sure like to meet you finally at last.”

“Why not?” he said, with feigned enthusiasm; after a moment he hung up, and the phone rang almost instantly, startling him and causing him to stutter as he answered: “H-hello?” It was Genevieve Rachmann. “Oh—hi! Rocky!” he responded. “I was—thinking about you all evening. Thought I’d give you a call.”

“So—how’s it going? I thought you were at the Roosevelt.” Genevieve sounded as though she were eating celery.

“Yeah, I was,” he improvised. “Room was crappy for the money. I told Lennie McCarthur about it, and he said I’d be better off over here.”

“Land the big part yet?”

“No! Hah! Hah!” he laughed. “But I’ve got a serious audition, a screen test even, really, set up for Friday. Rusted Spurs. Wish me luck, Rock.”

“Yeah—good luck. Where’s the test?”

“MGM.”

“Great. I’ve been in Burbank all day yesterday and today. Shooting a Redual Etse commercial.”

Wally asked, “What’s Redual Etse?”

“Este Lauder spelled backwards. Hey, I’m down by the pool with a couple of gals from the agency—you want to go for a late swim? The bar down here’s open ‘til—I don’t know—‘til it closes, I guess.”

Wally thought about it for less than three seconds. “How can I get there?”

“I don’t know. Steal a car. Take a cab.”

Wally paced back and forth in front of the Edwardian less than two minutes before a taxi slowed and pulled up to the curb. “Can you take me to the Beverly Hills Hotel?” he naively asked the driver. It was not a long ride, north on Rodeo Drive to Sunset Boulevard, and the cabbie explained, at the far edge of the ‘Pink Palace’s’ parking lot, “I gotta let you out here, ‘less you’re a registered guest.” Wally wondered why. “I don’t know. Rules, I guess. Who knows?”

The fare was eight dollars; Wally tipped him two. “Where’s the pool?” The driver indicated an entrance below and to the far left of the marquee. “Just go through there. Anybody says anything, tell ‘em’ you’re meeting someone.”

Inside, beyond the stucco wall, Wally spotted Genevieve immediately, in an almost non-existent iridescent white bikini; she was on a chaise lounge flanked by two incredibly gorgeous and incredibly blonde, bikini-clad ladies, and they were all drinking something in tall glasses with pineapple shoots hanging over the edge. The pool was lit from beneath the water’s surface, and the entire area was lined with a regiment of stately royal palms that disappeared after ten feet into the black night sky. The bar beyond the deep end and up four steps in front of the Polo Lounge was open, but there were no customers on the stools surrounding it. In fact, there were only four other people in the area, and three of those were waiters. The fourth, a guest, was a middle-aged man swimming laps in the pool.

“Hi!” Wally greeted, and bent down to kiss Genevieve’s proffered cheek. “Hi, yourself,” she said. “This is Francine—and this is Carmen.” Both looked up but neither offered a cheek or a hand. “Hi,” they said in unison. “What would you like to drink?” Genevieve asked. “What’re you all having?” Wally replied, indicating the tall glasses. Genevieve turned to her friend on the right. “What do you call these?” Carmen shrugged. “Pink Orgasms. They’re terrible.” Francine said, “Taste like diesel fuel.” Wally wondered to himself how she would know what diesel fuel tasted like. “How about a vodka/tonic?” Genevieve signaled one of the waiters. “Did you bring a swimsuit?” she asked Wally. He snapped his fingers. “Damn! Never even thought about it.” Genevieve giggled. “That’s okay. We can skinny-dip.” She looked up at the waiter. “Bring us both a couple vodka and tonics,” she said. “These are terrible. Is it okay if the four of us skinny-dip in your pool?” The waiter smiled and gestured with both palms upward, assuming she was not serious. “Suit yourself,” he said, with a slight Latino accent. “If we could ‘suit’ ourselves,” Francine quipped, “we wouldn’t have to skinny-dip.” The waiter put the three rejected Pink Orgasms on a small tray and headed toward the bar.

“So,” Genevieve said, moving her long legs and patting the chaise for him to sit, “what excitement have you been up to?” While waiting for the drinks to arrive, he told them of his dinner at the McCarthurs and the Powells, of meeting Brian Donlevy and Edmund O’Brien. Carmen wanted to know what Lolo and Betsy Rand were like, and Francine seemed genuinely, if curiously, interested in hearing all about Peter Lorrie. “He’s not very tall, is he?” she asked, and Wally said he hadn’t really noticed. “What’s his wife like?”

The drinks came and Wally took a long sip. Before reaching anywhere near the bottom, Genevieve stood up and removed her scant bikini. Turning her back, she asked Wally to undo the top. “Last one in is a fat pig!” she said, and neatly dove off the side. Within thirty seconds, Francine and Carmen, both giggling self-consciously, helped each other out of their bikinis and joined Genevieve in the pool. “What the hell,” Wally murmured to himself, finishing his drink, and removing his clothes. The water, not nearly as warm as he expected, grabbed roughly at him as he quickly dove in.

“Wow,” he said, coming up and standing near Genevieve. “This is—great!”

She laughed and leaned forward, rubbing him sensually on the shoulder. “There is something about swimming nude at night,” she said, “that is unlike anything in the world. Just like Buffalo, right?”

The middle-aged man swam past them, mumbled something unintelligible, and climbed out of the pool; he left and did not look back. Two of the waiters came alongside the pool’s edge, and one said, “You folks should not—uh, should put something on.” After a moment, when no one responded, he and his colleague went back to the bar, one of them saying something out of the corner of his mouth about calling ‘security.’

The foursome did not stay but five minutes in the pool. Carmen and Francine were the first out; they scooped up their bikinis and towels, wrapping themselves in their white BHH terry cloth robes, waved good-bye, and disappeared. Wally, mesmerized, had watched them intently as they climbed up the chrome ladder and made their way back to the chaise lounges. “Wow,” he said to Genevieve, “they are two beautiful ladies!”

“Beautiful, maybe,” she said, “but ladies, I’m not so sure. I think they’re queers . . . you know, dikes.”

“Lesbians?” Wally seemed surprised.

“Yeah, I think so. One of them—Francine, I think—came into my bedroom in my bungalow, before we went to dinner, while I was getting dressed. All I had on was my panties. She grabbed me and kissed me. She tried to fondle me.”

“She kissed you? Jeez, Rocky.” Wally was astounded.

“Yeah. I was scared, made me very nervous. I tried to push her away. But she kept on kissing me and groping at me. It was pretty good—until she tried putting her hand down my panties.”

“You liked it?” Astounded had escalated to dumbfounded and genuine arousal.

“Yeah, sort of. It was okay. It was—different. Not like this, though.”

Genevieve suddenly threw herself against him, encircled him with both arms, and kissed him with warm enthusiasm. It was a long kiss, probing and breath-stealing, and he felt the wet, hilly topography of her entire body sliding against him with the rhythm of a minor, shifting avalanche. “Look at you. Let’s go to my bungalow,” she said, huskily, and Wally, recalling Betsy’s dinner dissertation, wondered if she had rehearsed the line in her head while she was kissing him.

Only the number ‘4’ on a small tile plaque hanging just above the doorbell identified Genevieve’s bungalow. It was a hidden structure along a cobblestone path that was overgrown by errant Bermuda grass and thick shrubbery, a tiny house placed well back amidst small, stunted palms and rows of hibiscus. As was all of the Beverly Hills Hotel’s twenty-one bungalows scattered about the grounds, this one was secluded and private, buried in discreet obscurity from the gawking eyes of tourists and quasi-celebrities.

“You know,” Genevieve told Wally, “this is the very bungalow where Clark Gable and Carole Lombard shacked up before she was divorced.”

“Hmmm,” was the extent of his interest. “How come you got it?”

“I don’t know,” she replied. “The agency arranges everything. Maybe the place is off-season. Anyway, it’s pretty nice.”

Inside, Wally, wrapped in Genevieve’s BHH towel, watched her disappear into the bedroom to change out of her damp terry cloth robe. He dropped his own bundle of clothes on the sofa, undid the towel, rubbed himself dry, and got dressed. In five minutes, Genevieve came out of the bedroom wearing a long, vibrant paisley dressing gown, her hair still moist and hanging loose in damp strands to her shoulders. Wally moved toward her, but she spun about and went behind the bar that was wedged in a corner of the living room. “You know what I would like?” she asked.

“A drink?”

She shook her head. “No. But I’ll make you one. Vodka? Rocks? Tonic?” She produced an unopened bottle of vodkat from behind the bar.

“Rocks,” Wally said, approaching her. “How old is this hotel?” Genevieve didn’t know, but she guessed (accurately) that it had been built before World War I, before Beverly Hills was even a suburb. “I would like,” she said, “a glass of warm milk.” Wally glanced at the telephone on the nearby sofa’s end table. “Call room service.” Genevieve said no, it was too late. “Too late for room service—at the Beverly Hills?” Genevieve poured some vodka over the cubes she had placed in a low glass. “Yes,” she said. “Be a sweetheart and go get me a glass of warm milk.” Wally looked toward another door off the living room. “Is that a kitchen?” Genevieve nodded. “And there’s a refrigerator, too, and a stove. And pots and pans. But—no milk. Be a love. Please. Ask some one in the Polo Lounge.”

Wally looked down at the floor. “Milk,” he whispered.

“Warm. . . . I’ll keep your drink cold.”

Outside, he stood on the cobblestone path and wondered which way to go. A bellhop walked past him, and he asked where he might get a glass of warm milk. “Try the kitchen,” the bellhop suggested. “The Fountain Coffee Shop is still open—downstairs, in the basement. I can get it for you.” Wally considered it, then declined. He didn’t know what size tip the bellhop would expect. Nor how much a glass of milk would be. “Thanks. Show me where to go.”

Wally followed the bellhop into the main lobby, and the young man pointed to the wide staircase beside the concierge desk. Downstairs, an older woman behind the curved pink counter glanced suspiciously at him when he asked for a glass of warm milk, but she obediently went to the huge stainless steel refrigerator disguised by abundant banana leaf wallpaper and produced a bottle of fresh milk. Heated in a pan and poured into a sixteen-ounce paper cup, she handed over the tepid milk. “Eight-fifty,” she said, “or you can sign for it.” Wally groped in is wallet for a ten dollar bill, but had a better idea. He took the guest slip and pen from the woman, added a two-dollar tip, and signed it G. Rachmann—bung 4.

Returning to Bungalow No. 4, Wally tried the latch but found the door locked. He rang the bell and waited nearly a minute before the door opened slightly, and Genevieve’s hand reached out and took the milk away from him. “Hold on,” she said, from the crack in the opening before she closed the door again. Wally tried the latch, but it was locked. A few seconds later, she reopened the door slightly, and her hand came out with his drink. The instant he took it, the door was closed with a gentle click.

“Rocky- . . . ”

“Thank you,” she replied, from the other side. “Goodnight, Wally.”

“Genevieve . . .”

“Go away. I need sleep. Goodnight. Thank you.”

* * *

It was eleven forty-five when Wally walked into The Rest Room. An idle taxi in the Beverly Hills Hotel parking lot had taken him away from the ‘Pink Palace’ and back to the Edwardian where he had showered and changed clothes before strolling down Franklin to Vine and his rendezvous with Isabelle and her sister.

The bar, crowded at night and poorly ventilated, was clothed in a gray greatcoat of cigarette smoke. The two-story building housing The Rest Room was fifty years old and, except for the bar and restaurant, was empty and had been for as long as anyone could remember; it was owned by a Las Vegas businessman who hadn’t been near the place in a decade. The Rest Room was owned and operated by the bartender, a Russ Neeley, who employed two other bartenders, three waitresses, a cashier, and a short order cook named Aaron Tumbrill. Aside from all standard whisky and national and local beers at the bar, the food service was from five to ten P.M. daily and consisted of five items: hamburgers, hot dogs, Swiss cheese on rye, fried, scrambled or poached eggs, and potato chips. Tumbrill’s expertise in the kitchen was developed at a White Tower back East. Five years ago a Los Angeles banking consortium had offered the absentee owner a quarter million dollars for the building, which they would raze and rebuild as a modern financial center; but he declined, content that Russ Neeley paid his monthly rent and override percentages punctually and accurately every thirty days. The fact that Russ was his brother-in-law played a significant role in that contentment. A few years later, the Las Vegas businessman would build a resort of worldwide appeal on the Strip, and Russ Neeley would abandon California to manage the resort’s banquet service, leaving The Rest Room to disintegrate and go out of business; the building then would be bought for ninety thousand dollars, sold by the city to Malls of the West for two million dollars, be razed at last, and turned into a parking lot at the intersection of Franklin and Vine.

“Sorry I’m so late,” Wally said, but he really wasn’t the least bit sorry. He spotted Isabelle at the far end of the bar sitting with someone he assumed was her twin sister, although there was little resemblance aside from their similar attire: both wore extremely short shorts and diminutive matching yellow ruffled halters with tight elastic supports that required no straps. Isabelle’s hair was ash blonde, and her sister was an unmistakably fiery redhead. “You must be Beverly,” he said, as she thrust out her hand, and he wasn’t sure whether to shake it or kiss it. Opting for the former, he said, “I’ve been looking forward to meeting you for a long time. Isabelle’s told me all about you.” The ladies were both drinking tap beer from oversize Anheuser Busch mugs, and Wally signaled the nearest bartender to bring him one of the same. “The smoke in here’s awful,” he said, happily noticing neither of the sisters was contributing to it. “I don’t know how you stand it.”

“You get used to it,” Isabelle said, adding, “I’m glad you don’t smoke, though. Neither Beverly or me never have.”

Beverly said, “I hope she didn’t tell you everything about me.” She spoke softly, in a tone sultrier than Isabelle’s, and he leaned closer to catch her inflection. He thought she smelled of some lavender or lilac cologne, and he found it most pleasant. “Not everything,” he said. She smiled at him; her teeth were straight and brilliantly white, and a dimple appeared in each cheek. He glanced at Isabelle, and she too smiled—but her teeth, though straight, were somewhat dull and less gleaming. Her jowls remained deserted by any hint of a dimple.

Beverly was not only a vibrant redhead with dimples, she displayed a munificent arrangement of freckles that did not diminish when they ran down her neck and shoulders to hide in the copious cleavage of her narrow halter. “You are covered with the most—sexy freckles I have ever seen,” he said, playfully. “Play your cards right, and I may let you count them,” she laughed. Wally instantly wondered if Isabelle had confided to her sister that he had been less than robust in bed, but nothing in Beverly’s gay rejoinder betrayed a thing.

Isabelle slid over to an empty stool and Wally climbed up between them. When his beer was served, he took a hearty draught; the beer was cold and carbonated and its bubbles danced on his tongue. He was pleasantly surprised how much he liked it, and it occurred to him how much better it tasted than Jack Daniel’s or vodka. Despite his penchant for alcohol, he often admitted to himself that it was a peer pastime, and given his druthers he would rather have an occasional beer and forego everything else in favor of Coke, Pepsi, Dr Pepper, iced tea, or even soda water. He downed his flagon of beer quickly and ordered another. “Take care of my friends, as well,” he commanded, and the bartender asked if he meant the entire bar.

“No—no!” he laughed. “Just us three.” He waved his arm to include Isabelle and Beverly.

Beverly amended, “On Friday, if he gets the part on TV, we’ll really celebrate and it’ll be drinks for everyone!”

“Yeah, sure,” Wally threw out, not at all sure if she was serious. “How do you know about Friday?” Gesturing toward Isabelle, Beverly said, “My blabbermouth sister told me. Is it a secret?” Wally assured her it was not. “Eleven o’clock Friday morning,” he said, “at MGM. Full blown screen test.”

Beverly wanted to know if he’d seen the script, and Wally shook his head. “You should at least have a copy,” she insisted. “How you supposed to know what to say, what you’re going to do? They should at least give you a script—or part of one. How you gonna show up prepared? Our daddy used to say, nobody ever got nuthin outta life if you didn’t come prepared.”

“What’d your daddy do?”

“He was a house painter. . . . You never got a script?”

Wally admitted that he did not; it had never occurred to him. Beverly looked at her beer mug. “Some actor,” she said, with the poise of a Times movie critic; “you’re gonna wow ‘em with a screen test you never even saw the script for? I don’t believe it.”

He sat silently, no longer charismatically verbose, embarrassed that he’d never thought about a script, had never for a moment considered what the content of his screen test would actually be. Incredibly, with all the talk about it the past two days, no one at the McCarthur’s—not Lennie nor Lolo, not even Betsy—nor the Powells nor the O’Briens—not even a professional model like Genevieve who probably had a dozen auditions for commercials each and every week—no one had once broached the subject of a script. What, he wondered, was he supposed to do? Show up at eleven on Friday, get handed a script and told to study it for ten minutes, then go stand in front of a camera and fake his way through it with no rehearsals or anything? Perhaps he would simply be told to do this or that—walk this way or that way—mount a horse or draw his gun (what gun? Where would he get a gun? Would it be a six-shooter or a rifle? Who was he supposed to shoot? What was he supposed to say to his father? Would there be a girl he was supposed to talk to? Would he have to kiss her? Would she be tied to the tracks and he was supposed to save her from being run over by a steam engine?—Christ! What was a screen test all about?)

Beverly was saying, “You should call your buddy Lenny McCarthur.”

Wally glanced up and over at her. “Now?”

“Sure. Why not?”

He looked at the clock above the bar. “It’s twelve-thirty.”

“So?”

Fifteen minutes went by before Wally slid off the barstool and went to the payphone just outside the men’s room door. Fishing in his wallet he found McCarthur’s number, deposited a dime, and slowly dialed the San Fernando Valley area code, followed by 272-7272. “Please deposit seventy cents for the first three minutes,” the operator said. Wally let four quarters clink their way into the nearly empty repository at the base of the phone, and Lennie answered, from a deep sleep, on the seventh ring.

“Who the fuck’s callin’ at three inna morning?” he growled, a gruff whisper not to disturb Lolo (who was already awake.)

Wally breathed hard. “It’s me—Wally Emerson.”

“Who? Wally? Jay-sus—Betsy with you?” In the background, Wally heard Lolo say, “Betsy’s been in bed for hours.” Lenny snorted, “By God, she better be, or I’m gonna kill this sumbitch. Whaddya you want, kid, at four inna morning?—better be goddamn important!”

Wally blurted out, “How come I don’t have a script for Friday?”

“A what?”

“A script—for my screen test.”

“A scrip?”

“Yes.”

“Jaysus H. Christmas—a scrip? How the fuck do I know? Whaddya you want a scrip for?”

“So I—I don’t know—so I know what to do when I show up Friday.”

There was a long pause at Lennie’s end of the line, and Wally felt the older man was calming down. Then: “What the hell you need a scrip for?’ Lennie asked. “It’s just a goddamn screen test. You’ll come on the set, an’ DeBrine will tell you to do—this and that—you an’ me’ll bullshit about cow’s dyin’ from bad water inna polluted creek, an’ bank’s fuckin’ folks offa their farms, an’ shit like that! Whole thing’s gonna take about five minutes, tops. When it’s all done, DeBrine’s gonna tell you to fuck off, git a plane back to Buffalo, an’ that’ll be that. Where are you?” Wally told him he was at The Rest Room. “You takin’ a dump?” Wally told him it was that bar near his hotel in Hollywood. “Who you got with you?” Wally told him Isabelle—“You remember her”—and her sister Beverly. Lennie hesitated and said, “You all wanna come out here a’ talk about this?’ In the background, Lolo said, “It’s almost one o’clock.” Lennie shushed her. “Come on out here an I’ll stand y’all to a real drink. Bring your bimbos with you, if you want.”

Beverly, at first not thrilled with the idea, drove while Isabelle, who had to be at work by eight o’clock, slept in the backseat. Wally, now having made the trip to Bar Amateurs twice, directed her from the passenger side. “Just go the way I tell you,” he said, “and we’ll be there in no time.”

Traveling from Hollywood into the San Fernando Valley after midnight on a weekday was similar to driving from North Conway, New Hampshire to Fryeburg, Maine on, say, a January 19th, any given year; except for the climate and the road conditions, the awareness of human existence was identical. The same number of citizens were alive and breathing, but none was awake or ambulatory—not even the police or firemen, no doctors or nurses or orderlies—schoolmarms or college professors, certainly no students, professionals or store clerks, farmers, thieves or murderers—civilization was dormant and not to be disturbed. Dogs, cats, house pets of every description were in some other spiritual domain. Miles of orange and lemon groves were now unattended and spawning new buds and leaves, waiting for another sunrise to give them sustenance—many farms huddled in quiet solitude, waiting, waiting, waiting. . . . No lights shone, neither people nor animals moved on either side of the highway, and nothing but darkness prevailed beyond fifteen yards. The entire universe consisted of three people in a rocketing sedan between Hollywood and the Valley. Once at Bar ∩Amateurs it all changed.

Lennie, a silk robe of royal purple wrapped over his pajamas, was waiting for them on the porch; the lower level of the house was lit up as though a dinner party would shortly begin; the porch was illuminated by many floor lamps spaced casually near wicker rockers, gliders, and convenient matching tables; three tumblers of Jack Daniel’s over ice and a freshly opened bottle on a silver tray alongside a silver ice bucket sat on a round table near his rocker. It was one fifty-nine.

“Whaddja do, come by way a Memphis?” he groused at them as they abandoned the car and climbed up the four steps.

“Traffic was a killer,” Wally quipped, and introduced Beverly while Isabelle sleepily rubbed her eyes.

“So you’re the twin sister,” Lennie deduced. “Man, you got the reddest hair I ever seen! Boy really knows how to pick good lookin’ females, doan he?!” He got up and handed Beverly a tumbler of Jack Daniel’s as he shook her hand. “Here, drink this slow, so’s you doan break out in freckles.” He smiled his most charming and held her hand longer than necessary, but when he dropped it, he reached over and placed a heavy arm around Isabelle. “Gal, you got six trillion freckles less than ol’ Beverly here. You two no more like twins’an me an’ ol’ Wally here,” he laughed and hugged Isabelle against his side. She giggled self-consciously and accepted a glass of whisky; Lennie let her go and moved away to secure the remaining tumbler for Wally. “Sumpthin to wet your whistle,” he said, indicating they all should sit down. The girls chose the smallest glider while Wally and Lennie sat in the two wicker rockers flanking the table holding the tray and bottle of Jack Daniel’s. “So,” the older man said to Wally, “you got a tick in your ear an’ wakin people up at all hours ‘cause you need a scrip for your big screen test. Have a good sluga Number Seven an’ listen to how stupid that sounds.”

Wally wasn’t sure how, in front of Isabelle and Beverly, he should react to anything Lennie said. He knew they were in awe of him, on the front porch at his grand mansion, a movie icon they had seen many times but never expected in their wildest dreams to meet, a giant of a man in the rapture of middle-age, robust, graying, rough-hewn, unique in his profession as an actor, stuntman and double—drinking Jack Daniel’s with him in his bathrobe and pj’s at two o’clock in the morning, his illustrious wife and dynamic daughter somewhere within yards of them. . . . Sure, he wasn’t Robert Mitchum or Tyrone Power, but they were on the perimeter of a life and existence they had previously known only between the covers of fan magazines. Lennie McCarthur. Movie star with seventy-one pictures under his belt, a dozen in which he had had second and third leads and dozens of ‘walk-on’s’, an actor who had doubled and done stunts for a myriad of household names—and an equal number of guest starring credits on TV dramas ranging from Gunsmoke to Mission Impossible. Isabelle, who had been there before, was still unsettled in his presence . . . but Beverly was mesmerized.

“Okay, Gregory Peck,” Lennie was saying, “a scrip you need, a scrip you’ll get. An’ here it is . . . Page One—get on your horse an’ ride ’im down to the end a the street. Rein ’im up short, spin ’im around an’ head on back down to where you started. Get off ‘im before he stops an’ do a front somersault an come up with your gun drawed an’ start shootin’. Drop five outta six bad guys about to run off with the purdy lil damsel in distress. Grab the gal away from the last bad guy an’ beat the crap outta him.” Lennie paused for a gulp of whisky. “Then lift the lil ol’ gal up onna horse, jump up behind her, an’ ride off wavin’ your hat, which is still on your head. Got it? Do all that, an’ the job’s yours!”

Wally looked at Lennie with a profound glare of dumfounders’ remorse “That’s my script?”

“Yep. That’s it. Drink up an’ go home.”

The screen door opened and Lolo came out from the vestibule. Her hair, bedded for the night in a row of hidden curlers, was well secured under a broad yellow scarf that enveloped her head and was tied beneath her chin. She was wearing a flamboyant Oriental robe with dragon heads, their teeth flashing and tails swiping, and on her feet were fluffy white slippers slapping at the floor as she walked; her face was glowing radiantly from behind a thin layer of magical and costly night cream. The moment Beverly saw her in the pale lights of the porch, the young twin fell madly in love with the delicate apparition who had suddenly appeared. “This here’s my wife, Lolo,” Lennie announced, breaking the spell.

Isabelle spoke up from the shadows. “Beverly’s seen every pitcher you ever been in, Mrs. Rand, uh, McCarthur.” It occurred to her she didn’t really know how to address Lennie’s wife. “Missus, uh, you know . . . ”

Wally laughed first, then Lennie. Lolo smiled appreciatively just as Betsy came through the door: “What’s so funny?” she asked. Betsy, a younger replica of her mother, wore a chenille robe, nothing on her feet, and her dark hair was tousled—curly, hanging in rumpled sheets to her shoulders on both sides of a face slightly swollen with sleep. Wally was certain she had nothing on under the chenille robe—at best, just baby doll pajamas—and the sight of her was titillating. “I thought I heard a phone ring.”

“That was a hour ‘go,” Lennie grumped.

Betsy saw Wally and the girls; she came up short, her tiny feet sliding slightly on the smooth terrazzo of the porch’s floor. “What’re you guys doing here?”

Lolo narrowed her eyes and glanced critically at her daughter. She did not like the phrase “you guys” and she had asked Betsy on three previous occasions not to use it—to no avail, as the phrase was in its embryonic state among younger, more pliant and less concerned arbiters of the American vernacular. As English, Lolo considered it a corrupt delineation of personages old, young, smart, mentally destitute, rich, poverty stricken, clean, dirty, lovely, ugly—people in general who had much, little, or no significance among their peers. “You guys” sounded like a put-down: you guys are less than we . . . you guys will never make it in today’s society . . . you guys stink. Turned about, “you guys” could be a term of affection: you guys are marvelous . . . we love you guys . . . what would life be like without you guys? . . if only everyone were like you guys. In other mindsets, “you guys” easily became a term of derision: you guys make me sick . . . why don’t you guys get lost? . . life would be perfect without you guys screwing it up. Or “you guys” could be the most innocent of inquiries: what’re you guys doing here? To Lolo’s ear, however, “you guys” resided in a class of speech that demanded the phrase emanate from a mentality struggling not to say “Youse guys.”

“What?” Betsy asked, defensively, when she caught her mother’s snide look.

“Nothing,” Lolo sighed, little more than a whisper.

“It’s Wally here,” Lennie smirked. “All bent up ‘cause he ain’t got no scrip for his screen test. Told him he doan need one. Trent’ll give him all the scrip he’s gonna need. Shoot, you’d think they was makin’ Stagecoach.” He looked at his wife. “Honey, you wanna drink?”

Lolo shook her bound up head, and they all sat down, Betsy, her robe opening enough for Wally to catch a glimpse of bare thigh, dragged another rocker closer to her father, and Wally and Lolo squeezed in between Isabelle and Beverly. Lennie offered to pull over another glider, but Lolo said they were just fine; there was plenty of room for everybody. Lennie remarked there seemed to be, if they were “salmon headin’ upstream tuh spawn.” Wally gestured to his rocker for Lolo, but she said there was no need to concern himself—“we’re not out here to watch the sunrise.”

“Look,” Lennie started, “lemme give it tuh you straight, as Cagney’ud say. A screen test for some ol’ TV series ain’t like for a big time movie. All Trent cares about is if you look good on camera; if your voice doan sound like some Venice Beach fairy, an’ if you can follow some simple directions. Ninety percent a what you do is shot silent, anyhow, an if he wants to hear you say some lines, they’ll have some ol’ guy hold up some cue cards beside the camera, an’ all you gotta do is read ’em like you’re really sayin’ ’em off the top a your head. Me an’ you sure as shootin’ gonna say some dialogue back an’ forth, but that’s all gonna be on cue cards. Tell you right now, if you can’t read, he’s gonna holler ‘cut’ an’ you gonna be on the next bus home. So it doan matter none if you read off the cue cards an’ doan even look at me or the camera—he just wants to hear what you sound like an’ if you can read. . . . . An’ how you look sittin on a horse an’ shootin’ a gun. An’ all that stuff like that.”

Wally sipped his Jack Daniel’s and said, “Then all I got to fear—is fear itself. Right?”

Lennie reached over and slapped the younger man’s knee with unexpected enthusiasm, making him jump and nearly spilling his drink. “Hey! That’s purty good! You talk juss like that on Friday, you got a shot at carryin’ my lunch once inn a while!”

Betsy reminded Wally they had gone all over this at dinner earlier. Lolo reminded him that “auditions and screen tests are a way of life out here,” and Beverly said they probably had two or three calls for taxis at JFK “everyday for people on their way to this studio or that for a screen test.” Isabelle said she couldn’t remember ever having a single one. “A screen test?” her sister asked. “No dummy—a taxi to get someone there!”

It was a lovely night in the Valley as the six of them sat on the porch talking about movies and TV shows, Lennie and Lolo reminiscing about roles in their past, about auditions and screen tests won and lost, how Betsy had blown her lines on eleven takes when shooting Weekend Prom (a part for which she had briefly been considered by the Academy for a nomination as Most Promising Ingénue, a category abandoned days before it was to be announced,) and the celebration party they were planning once the contract was signed for Lori’s Homeroom. The air was clean and clear, only a whiff of a breeze was evident, the temperature was in the low 70’s, no humidity, no bugs—a night, Lennie thought, made for filming in the desert with Rita Hayworth and Bob Montgomery. Betsy commented that if they turned off all the porch lights they could count every one of the ten thousand stars arching above from the ridge of the distant Simi Hills. Lennie dropped some cubes into his glass from the silver bucket and poured a fresh hooker of Jack Daniel’s. “Anybody for a mornin’cap?”

Isabelle said they should be going; she had to be to work by eight. “If we leave now, we can drop off Wally and be home by four.”

Betsy threw back her chenille sleeve to look at her watch. “I got a better idea. . . . ” Before she could elaborate further, Lennie said, “Sure—why not?” knowing somehow what she was going to suggest before she had a chance to say it. “You all stay here tonight, an’ Robert’ll take Isabelle to work inna morning, an’ he can drop off Betsy at school at Universal, an’ Beverly can get Wally back to his hotel after him an’ me practice some horsey-back ridin’ out in the corral, an’ shootin’ an’ stuff. Then Beverly here can go on home an’ get a good day’s sleep before she has to pick up Isabelle an’ go work herself in the afternoon. Shoot, that’s a great idea!”

Beverly perked up. “You got room for us all?”

“Room for lil ol’ you all?” Lennie laughed; “we got more bedrooms here than they got at the Ambassador. Wally got his favorite already, an’ Betsy can fix you two up jus’ down the hall from her. Whaddya say? Let’s hit the hay! I’m ready for some good sleepin’!” With that, he drained his glass.

Lolo glanced at Isabelle, wondering if anyone would care if she came to the office in short shorts and a ruffled, strapless halter. Isabelle, too, wondered what she would wear to work, but she didn’t say anything. Her cubicle in an anteroom behind the main counter was not visible to customers out front. Betsy knew she could easily outfit Isabelle in a suitable blouse and slacks from her own extensive wardrobe, and she knew her mother was worrying about it. Wally couldn’t care less; he was thinking about that king-size bed in the Deadwood bedroom. Beverly was thoroughly ambivalent; she thought the whole thing was a marvelous idea.

11

It was impossible to approach the MGM studios in Culver City and not bring to mind an image—accurate or not—of Samuel Goldwyn. Although Goldwyn never worked at MGM, never even maintained an office there and was in no manner ever connected with the company, had he not combined is name, Goldfish, with partners Edgar and Archibald Selwyn, there never would have been a Goldwyn Pictures, Inc. to be acquired by Marcus Loew and his Metro Pictures. By the time Louis B. Mayer became a force to be reckoned with, Goldwyn had been squeezed out of Goldwyn Pictures—and Metro Goldwyn Mayer, MGM, was organized with the company, but not the person, not the man whose name appeared on the lion’s head logo. Be that as it may, however, the lexicon of Americana was stuffed to the brim with Goldwynisms—some valid, others suspect, many apocryphal, most wishful thinking—but absolutely none came to mind as Wally and Lennie in the Cadillac being driven by Robert approached the main gate, followed closely by Lolo driving her Bentley with Betsy at her side and Isabelle in the back seat; Beverly, unable to wrangle the day off, was at work, expecting Isabelle to pick her up when she came off duty at four. Robert, maneuvering the Cadillac through unusually heavy traffic, was a self-acclaimed ‘expert’ on Samuel Goldwyn, having once worked as a driver for one of Goldwyn’s press agents many years before. Throughout the trip from Bar Amateurs, he had babbled non-stop in his malfunctioning speech pattern about the extraordinary producer’s penchant for absurd malapropisms. Neither Wally nor Lennie paid any attention to him. “He n-never said ‘include me out’,” Robert prattled on. “A lot o’ p-people attribute it to Groucho Marx, but he didn’t say it, either. Far as anyone knows, it was planted it with local meed-ya, and it spread like w-wildfire. Goldwyn always calls Danny K-kaye ‘Eddie’—he thinks Kaye looks like Eddie C-cantor, even after he t-told K-kaye to dye his hair b-blond. ‘What do I know?’ Goldwyn often said—‘They’re b-both Jewish!’ Hah! Hah! Now that’s funny! Goldwyn loves to play g-golf, especially with Harpo M-marx. One day Marx’s ball is lying inna rough, and Harpo k-kicked a good size rock out o’ the way. ‘You c-can’t do that!’ Goldwyn screamed; ‘it’s not l-legal!’ ‘But you just did, two h-holes back!’ Harpo screamed back. ‘S-so? Just because you’re a mute, didn’t you hear my c-caddy say I shouldn’t?’ But I don’t think he ever made that c-crack about Rudolph V-valentino—he suppose to say, ‘That kid worked his w-way up from a n-nobody. In fact, he was b-born in an orphan asylum.’ I also don’t b-believe he told Garson Kanin that he was at the rice track, and the 70-to-1 horse he b-bet on was w-winning ‘when the caddy fell off him inna s-stretch.’ No more’n I believe he ever said ‘we should make a p-picture about the R-russian S-secret P-police—you know, the G-O-P.’”

Lennie slapped the back of the seat in front of him. “Robert, f’chrise sake, shut the fuck up.”

Wally, whose shoe size was 13, same as Lennie’s, looked down at the snakeskin cowboy boots Lennie had loaned him, and he saw them as two fat rattlers slithering out from beneath the tight cuffs of faded jeans Lennie had tossed on his bed that morning. “This’s for you to wear over at MGM. Trent’s gonna want you lookin’ like a guy livin’ on a ranch with his ol’ man, an’ you wearin’ them boots an’ these dung’rees is frostin’ onna cake. Yesterday, out there scarin’ the shit outta my horses in your city duds, wouldn’ta got you a part onna Price is Right. You wanna sound like a kid that can do all the stuff you gotta do on Rusted Spurs, you gotta look at least a little bitty-bit like you’d know a plowshare from a Chrysler convertible. I was watchin’ you out there yesterday, an’ I tell you, I doan know any self-respectin’ horse north a the Rio Grande that’d let you near ‘im, let alone get up on ‘im, in those sissy gabardines an’ loafers you wear! An’ every time you shot off that six-shooter, I knew damn well it was gonna kick back atchew an’ leave a streak on them pants. You wore the holster way too low, too. You ain’t never gonna be no ‘Fast Draw McGraw,’ but that doan mean you can’t look like one—for today, at least. Shoot, they never gonna ask you to out draw a real poke on camera, but at least you can look like you might once in a while!”

“Yeah, well, I really appreciate all you’ve been doing for me, Lennie, these clothes and all. . . . I thought I did pretty good on that horse, too—she seemed to really take to me, sort of help me along, you know, doing everything I asked her to, especially when you said I was pulling her reins too tight and kicking her with my heels. I thought that was what you were supposed to do. . . . You sure this shirt fits okay and looks okay with these jeans?”

“You look Jim-Dandy. Too bad I ain’t got a decent hat that’d fitchew. My Stetsons’ll all come down over your ears!”

“Betsy says she knows there’s a perfect one for me in the prop department—the one that Henry Fonda wore in the Grapes of Wrath.”

“She’s lost her goddamn mind. That movie was made by Twentieth Century-Fox, an’ the hat Fonda wore weren’t no hat—it was a cap, like a dumb Irishman would wear, with a long brim that stuck out too far in front, bent over and—shit, it was black, on toppa everythin else. Ain’t no Western lead ever up there gonna play the lead wearin’ a black hat! She’s nuts.”

“She says that same cap is in MGM’s prop department. She says she saw it one day she was in there.”

“Well, if she did—an’ I ain’t sayin’ she didn’t—it ain’t the exact same cap Fonda wore.”

“She says it was. She told me last night.”

“Well, I ain’t gonna argue with you. It just wasn’t.”

Last night, the moment Wally was talking about, came about when he and Betsy had left the dining room after dinner and gone out on the porch, the same porch, in the same spot, where they had been the night before with Lennie, Lolo, Isabelle and Beverly, before the three visitors had all stayed overnight. As it had turned out, Isabelle did leave with Robert at about six-thirty. Beverly got up at ten, had a real country breakfast, and had driven off in their old Chevy just before noon. Wally stayed the entire day, and Lennie had taken him out to the corral for ‘a ridin’ an’ shootin’ session.’ Betsy, after classes at Universal, wandered out to the corral near four o’clock to watch. She stood beside her father as he climbed down from the rough, interlaced wooden fence, and they gazed at Wally, upright and stiff as a mast on a sloop, aboard a chestnut mare trotting counterclockwise around the rink. “He rides like he was dipped in starch,” she said.

“Yeah. Shoot. Nuthin we can do about it now. He ain’t never rode nuthin but a merry-go-round ever in his whole life, no matter what he says. Maybe it doan matter much, anyhow. Remember, the story is he was s’posed to be raised up by his ma back East, an’ when she died, he comes out to Oklahoma or New Mexico or someplace to live on his ol’ man’s ranch. Kid’s not s’posed to know a appaloosa from a teepee—an’ this one sure doant. I think if we get ‘im in some decent boots an’ some dung’rees, he can prob’ly get by. Jaysus, I sure hope he can read an’ not sound like he’s takin’ a census.”

“You know something, Dad, I think he really might look the part. He’s the right size, got the right build, his posture—or lack of it—hides a multitude of sins, his hair is just uncombed enough. . . . Trent DeBrine may think he’s just what the doctor ordered.”

“Yeah. Less hope ol’ Wally’s jus’ what DeBrine ordered. . . . Shoot—who we kiddin’?”

Wally showered in the Deadwood Suite (his name for the bedroom he’d more or less commandeered) and stayed for dinner. Over drinks in the library, Lennie came up with another brilliant idea.

“You know, I been thinkin’,” he said, looking at Lolo and Betsy rather than Wally. “I think ol’ Wally here should check outta his room in town an’ come live out here at Bar Amateurs—at least ‘til DeBrine gives ‘im his walkin’ papers an’ sends ‘im back to Buffalo. I was thinkin’ if by some chance they might want him to come back out again for some retakes—you know how them hotsy-totsy directors are—an’ he’s all the way in town, shoot, it’s gonna be a pain in the butt for him to keep comin’ back and forth . . .”

“You sound like you think one of you is going to get a part,” Lolo speculated.

“No, I doant, not really. I’m jus’ speculatin’ on what would be the easy, the best, arrangement for all concerned—”

“And the cheapest,” Wally murmured, already calculating how much he could save by checking out of the Edwardian.

“I don’t think it would be such a great idea,” Lolo said, glancing at Betsy—who wondered to herself what he mother was really objecting to. If nothing else, Betsy cottoned to the idea of having a ‘big brother’ around to rehearse with and bounce lines off. Lolo caught Betsy’s puzzled look and added, “Then again, I do see your point. What do you think, Wally?”

“I think—well, I think, you know, I don’t want to be any trouble for anyone . . . ”

“Hah!” Lennie snorted. “Like who—the upstairs’ maids? Kelvin, Janice, Patty—Robert? Shoot, they work here. If I wanna invite the Mormon Taberscrabble Choir to come move in here, what the fuck they gotta say about it?”

“Lennie . . .”

“Shoot, crap, I’m sorry. . . . You know what I mean.”

It was settled before the entrée was served at dinner. After the audition—“win, lose or draw,” Lennie said—Wally was gong to pack his cumbersome suitcase, check out of the Edwardian, and move into the Deadwood Suite at Bar Amateurs—at least until NBC decided on the lead for Rusted Spurs. “Besides,” Lennie rationalized, “he can help ol’ Betsy here with her . . . math.”

The MGM lot in Culver City was comprised of more sound stages than anyone could count. The buildings—rarely was one more than a single story—covered an area larger than any Ivy League campus—even Cornell and certainly more acreage than Harvard. Not that anyone ever compared MGM’s output with anything approaching an academic agenda, but pundits for most well-known movie magazines often said things like “the entire movie, encompassing the dynamics of growth and prosperity to devastation, was shot entirely in the sound stages and on the back lots of MGM’s vast studios in North Hollywood.” They could be talking about anything from The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire to Tobacco Road.

The gate at the main entrance was as ordinary as the train station in Coshocton, Ohio. The image of Paramount’s main gate instantly came to mind when one conjured up the frontispiece of a successful film institute; its curved arch and classic imprint was used whenever an opportunity arose to show how graceful and important a studio could be. Columbia’s wide streets between gaping sound stages was vividly portrayed when exteriors depicting the wild, frenetic movement within a cinematic complex was required, and RKO’s rolling hills and dusty roads were there when the script called for a panorama of action that might boast a ‘cast of thousands’ be scattered across the emulsion of a true epic (King Kong.)

But MGM, despite its momentarily disappointing ingress, won the Golden Tripod for first impressions. “Wow!” was Wally’s wily and wondrous witticism as the Cadillac turned onto Wilshire Boulevard and approached the military-style guardhouse from which a lowered, black-and-white striped barricade was controlled. A lady in her late forties, hair now brassed yellow and red from its original brunette, her body swathed in a caftan that did little to camouflage her considerable bulk, sashayed on skimpy sandals and painted toes from inside the guardhouse, and immediately began flipping pages on a clipboard. “And you are?” she demanded, her voice a honed razor that shaved all friendliness from her chubby face. Robert, lowering his window, raised his thumb and gestured toward the rear seat, simultaneously lowering the rear window. “McCarthur,” Lennie snapped. “I have returned . . . fer crysake, Florence, you know who I am!—and Wally Emerson—here to see Trent DeBrine.” Impassively, the guard-lady scanned her clipboard, pretending to search for the first notation at the top of the page. “Right,” she finally said, “here you are. Stage 37. Turn right, go seven buildings, turn left, go eleven buildings, turn left again, go nine buildings—it’s the first build—”

“We know w-where it is,” Robert said, raising his window before the guard’s last words were out. The barricade came up on a hand signal to an accomplice inside the guardhouse, and Robert eased the huge car into the domain of the late Louis B. Mayer and Marcus Loew—or more accurately, the surfeit of vacuous shareholders back East, primarily in New York and Florida, who wrongly thought owning stock in a movie studio gave them a bewitched caducei that identified them as patrons of the dramatic arts. In a way, though, it did; because of the shareholders, neither Loew nor Mayer, nor their estates, had a thing to say about the products that would bear the MGM logo for decades to come. The Bentley behind them slowed but did not stop. Lolo waved to the guard-lady, and the guard-lady, now smiling, waved back, bending low and acknowledging Betsy as well. The Bentley rolled inside the gate and closely followed the Cadillac into and through the magical maze.

Robert knew exactly where he was gong, having driven Lennie, Lolo, and even Betsy to a number of assignments on various occasions inside the mind-boggling labyrinth of MGM. True, most of the structures were no more than one story, but the interiors were high and vast, ceilings of unimaginable distance from floors that were smooth as silk for cameras and boom dollies to glide across, yet capable of supporting papier-mâché and plywood replicas of castles and cathedrals, airport runways, Washington edifices, Olympic-size swimming pools, ocean-side villas, expansive beaches, mountain ravines, a mock-up of an entire newspaper office and printing plant—and just about anything else an inventive scriptwriter could concoct that was cheaper to shoot indoors than out, or on location. Actors loved working at MGM. The air-conditioning, along with everything else electronic, from cameras to sound recording and effects to intricate lighting panels to processing labs and editing rooms—all was state-of-the-art; and it seemed nothing was ever allowed to malfunction. The offices arranged around the perimeter of each building were bright, lavish, comfortable to the extreme, with all known conveniences at the occupants’ fingertips—even the lavatories were special, featuring soft, filtered water and noiseless toilets, brilliant mirrors and glare-proof but revealing lighting, and thick, fluffy, sterile hand and face towels embossed with the MGM logo. Lennie once remarked, coming out of a men’s room, “Can’t even wipe your ass without Leo’ face growlin’ atcha!” Out back each sound stage was ample parking for a limitless number of automobiles, limousines, motorcycles—and a battalion of trailers that served not just as dressing rooms, but homes-away-from-home for first, second, and third leads and their staffs. The lot boasted its own clinic, complete with a trauma suite, four private rooms, two nurse practioners and two assistants. Paramedics and doctors were just a phone call away at Cedars-Sinai. The MGM fire stations (there were four, strategically located) had their own pumpers and rescue vans (personnel, however, on duty around the clock, was supplied by the City of Los Angeles.) Uniquely, the sound stages’ identifying numbers (1 – 83) were purposely arranged for easy directions—37, for example, was placed exactly in line with its peers so that viewing a topographical grid placed it just behind, adjacent, or across from 36, 38 or 47. Once the grid’s formula was memorized (A + C, B + D = X—X being your destination,) no one could get lost. Except Sam Goldwyn, who was erroneously attributed the line: “It sounds like advanced geography to me!” That alone may account for why MGM’s executive offices were located in a singular modern building shaped like Washington’s Pentagon but a few yards from the main entrance: the front office was literally just that.

Robert pulled up to a Visitor sign in the parking lot behind Stage 37, and Lolo took the spot marked beside him. As soon as Lolo stepped out and away from the Bentley, Betsy slipped into the driver’s seat, backed out, and disappeared between the buildings.

“Where the hell she off to?” Lennie wanted to know. “The prop department,” Lolo told him, “to get some hat she wants Wally to wear.” Lennie moved toward the sound stage door, muttering, “Girl’s nuts.”

Inside, Trent DeBrine was in the center of a knot of people at the edge of a barroom set that would be a permanent part of the Rusted Spurs story line. DeBrine was wearing white shorts and a crimson T-shirt with the admission in gold letters that it was the Property of UCLA Athletic Dept. Wally noticed that even at forty-one DeBrine had the legs of a Trojan linebacker: not just muscular but rippling with veins that would become varicose in ten more years. The T-shirt betrayed shoulders and upper arms that still, religiously, were treated to strenuous daily workouts at MGM’s fitness center. It was no secret that DeBrine ran on the beach at Malibu at least twenty-five miles a week with Burt Lancaster, and together they lifted weights as part of their workouts; Lancaster could, according to his clippings, bench press 275 pounds. DeBrine, unable as a mere director to share such statistics with the world, often added two more weights to the bar and reached 350 with ease. Not only was he a physical fitness fanatic, he possessed handsome matinee idol features beneath a mop of curly brown hair, and sported a smile that Montgomery Clift openly envied. “That sonofabitch could make Ward Bond cry,” Clift once said, “if he didn’t have a voice like Jane Withers!” It was true. He opened his mouth to say ‘Good morning’ and horny cardinals hiding in maple trees had unexpected orgasms. Luckily for Hollywood, Trent DeBrine’s only interest in pictures was directing and editing.

Glancing at his wristwatch, he said, when he saw Lennie et al approaching, “Glad you could make it.”

“Traffic,” Lennie shrugged.

“Yeah.”

“So whatcha got for us? Ol’ Wally here’s ready to roll—an’ so am I.”

DeBrine looked at the two for a brief moment, then turned to face Lolo just beyond Lennie’s shoulder. “Frankly, I wish Freddie’s mother didn’t die. If the old man had kicked the bucket, I’d have the kid go back East and live with the mom—and I’d want Lolo for the role in a minute. Damn writers.”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah. Well, here’s the skinny.” He turned to his A.D., Josh Cambridge, who hovered nearby to hand over a thick clipboard. “What I want is for Wally here to go outside and look at the nag tied up in front of the saloon facade. The shot I want to get, is for him to untie the horse from the hitching rail, get on him, ride him down to the end of the street, bring him around and start back at a full gallop. Then back at the saloon, get off the horse, drop to one knee, take out his six-shooter, and, fanning the hammer á la Lash LaRue, empty all six shots into the doorway as a bunch of bad guys’re coming out to get him.”

Lennie nudged Wally in the ribs with his elbow. “See? I toldja. Piece a cake.”

“Is that it”? Wally asked, incredulously.

“No quite,” DeBrine said. “After we get that in the can—shouldn’t take more’n six hundred takes—we’ll come back in here, and I want you and Lennie to stand at the bar and spout some dialogue Gail’s put on cue cards—then go sit down at a table, have a drink, and talk about . . . whatever. She’s got it all on cue cards. The stuff outside we’ll shoot silent, but the inside stuff is s.o.f. And, Wally, for chrissake, don’t shout, don’t project, keep it down—just normal conversation.”

Lennie was annoyed. “For chrissake yourself, the kid’s been on radio for twenty years.”

“Six,” Wally corrected.

“Well, whatever.”

As the entourage began to parade across the set to an opening leading to the back lot, Betsy suddenly appeared and touched Wally’s arm.

“Here,” she said, “take this. Put it on just as soon as he hollers ‘Action!’”

“What is it?”

“Henry Fonda’s cap.”

“Really?”

“I don’t know. Just put it on when he says ‘Action!’ It’s a lucky hat. You’re going to need every bit of luck you can get.”

Wally took the cap, crumpled it, folded it, and stuck it under his arm, high up near the pit. He looked at Betsy, and she winked at him. He glanced at Isabelle who was smiling foolishly at him, and he wondered what she was actually doing there—not that it made any difference.

The screen test was a disaster. “A total disaster, an unmitigated fiasco” he would later say to Lennie, Betsy and Lolo. “But—it had its moments!” Coming out of the swinging doors, Wally dropped the cap; when he bent down to pick it up, the door swung back and cracked him across his rump, a Chaplinesque moment no one could have anticipated. He stepped forward and slapped the cap on his head, bounding down the wooden steps to where his horse was secured. But whoever had tied the horse to the hitching rail in front of the saloon used a single rein timber knot rather than a simple slipknot, and Wally could not free the line by grabbing the loose end, as he’d seen Tom Mix and Buck Jones do a hundred times. Tug as he might, whipping right and then left, he only made it tighter—at one point the horse, a filly named Delores, reached down and tried to assist with her teeth, eliciting a laugh from nearby stagehands. Frustrated, Wall reached into his pocket and withdrew his Swiss Army knife (fifth anniversary token from WGND) and within seconds the reins were sliced free—this time the laughter filtered from a guffaw to a brief round of applause. Anticipating a call to “Cut!” Wally quickly moved to Delores’ side and started his mount . . . first putting his left foot into the waiting stirrup, grabbing the pommel with both hands, and about to pull himself up and throw his right leg across the animal’s back—but Delores, being a well-trained ‘movie’ horse, smelled a rat and whinnied angrily, spinning suddenly in a tight circle to prevent Wally from finishing his mount. Good horse! With his left foot in the stirrup on the horse’s right side, Wally would have found, had he swung his right leg across, he was sitting backwards in the saddle! Trent DeBrine now, mercifully, was about to shout, “Cut!” but something stopped him, and the camera, recording the scene through an explosion of dust created by the whirling horse, continued to roll film. Wally stood still, confused and uncertain, as Delores circled him and came to a halt with Wally on his right. Easily, instinctively, the young man placed his right foot in the waiting stirrup and hoisted himself up with a slight grunt atop the animal, tall in the saddle at last, a satisfied look on his face, and said “Giddy-up!” which was all Delores had to hear to send her flying down the faux–Western street at a full gallop, a blurred tantivy, loose dirt spraying from fleeting hoofs, and Wally holding on for dear life!

At the end of the qua thoroughfare, false facades of an empty town rushing by at breakneck speed, the horse, with barely a tug of the reins, slid to a near-perfect stop, rose up slightly on her hind legs, and came about without causing Wally to lose balance.

“Jay-sus, did you see that?” Lennie bellowed, elbowing Lolo in the ribs. “That fuckin’ horse reared up like Silver—an’ ol’ Wally hung right in there!”

“Leonard! Watch your language!” Lolo said, and he knew she was serious because she never called him Leonard. “The boy’s going to kill himself before this is over! Tell Trent to make them stop right now! Come on, girls, we’re going back to the car!” Of course, no one moved. Isabelle just stared with her mouth open, and Betsy was transfixed.

Back in front of the saloon, Delores put on the brakes as Wally tried to free his feet from the stirrups, an appropriate move it turned out because Wally had brought his right leg up and across the saddle’s pommel—and with his left foot already outside the stirrup, he merely slid off Delores’ back and hit the ground on both feet—because he was wearing Lennie’s cowboy boots with the purposely curved heels, he did not break his ankles; instead a forward roll sent him into an unexpected somersault, and as he came up on his knees, he drew his six-shooter, pulled the trigger, and simultaneously fanned the hammer as Lennie had taught him yesterday. Shockingly, nothing happened.

The trigger, frozen against the rear curve of the guard, would not release the hammer, and consequently the pin did not strike the blanks’ compression caps—the barrel did not move. Six bad guys irrupted and stumbled drunkenly out of the saloon and headed for where Wally was waiting in the dirt. Nonplussed, Wally raised the revolver and cried, “Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!” Five of the six veteran actors grabbed their chests and fell to the ground, dead as stones. The sixth, however, kept coming. Wally shouted, “Bang! Bang!” twice more, but he wouldn’t go down. No more than three feet from him, Wally jumped up and hurled the gun with all his might at the bad guy’s head; luckily, he missed him by a foot, but the bad guy—a real trooper—brushed his filthy hat away, grabbed his forehead, fell over backwards, and lay dead for all to see.

A platoon of stagehands—grips, technicians, boom men, best boys—even the cameraman—burst into sustained applause. Wally got up, uncertain if the ovation was for him or the bad guy, and he looked in Trent DeBrine’s direction—but the director was bent over and talking with his chief A.D.

“Where’d he get that goddamn hat? That’s no cowboy hat!”

“I think Betsy Rand gave it to him,” Cambridge said. “S’posed to be the hat Fonda wore in The Grapes of Wrath.”

“For chrissake, he doesn’t

look any more like Henry Fonda than I do!”

“You’re right,” the A.D. said. “He looks more like Tom Joad.”

“Let’s find out what he sounds like before anybody sees this footage.”

Back inside Stage 37 a few minutes later, Wally and Lennie stood alone at the long, rustic bar. The bartender, a grizzled character actor Wally had seen many times but could not place, came up to them, a lit cheroot wedged in the corner of his mouth, and poured a jigger of rotgut (tepid tea) into the shot glass in front of Lennie. He started to pour another into Wally’s glass, but Lennie placed his hand over the lip. “Kid doan drink,” he said. The bartender blew out a pillow of gray smoke, plunged a cork into the bottle and, shrugging indifferently, moved away.

“Dad, I don’t think it’s a good idea to shut me out like that.”

“How old are you, Freddie?”

“You know as well as I do.”

“Yeah. Well, by my way o’reckonin’, you’re ‘bout ten years shy o’ standin’ here an’ drinkin’ with your ol’ man.”

“In ten years I’ll be old enough to run for president.”

“Hah! Thass what we need! A pres’dent who ain’t even dry behind the ears!”

Wally rolled his eyes, amazed Lenny’s character would ever say such a line, and the cue card lady, Gail, uncertain herself that that was written on her sheet, tried to look over the top of the cards, and in so doing, dropped them. Before she could gather them up and sort them back in order, Trent DeBrine stood up beside the camera, was about to shout Cut! when Wally looked directly at Lenny and said, “You know what I think that really matters, Dad?”

“No, kid—what?”

“I think you’re living in the eighteen-twenties. To you, what matters is that you’ve suddenly got yourself a grown son who all of a sudden shows up on your doorstep, and you don’t know what to do with him. Your wife—the one you walked out on more than two decades ago—is gone, dead, died, leaving you a lonely widower whose only son—your son—suddenly gets on a train and high-tails it out West to find his old man . . . . And here he is, trying to run a ten thousand acre ranch all by himself in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada’s, running so many head of cattle he can’t even count ‘em—while the sheep farmers and the cotton growers are chompin’ at the bit to see you go under and get . . . buried in the sage brush.” Wally racked his brain to think of every cliché he’d ever heard on a Saturday afternoon screen. “I know what you’re thinking, Pa. You’re thinkin’ this dumb kid from the East doesn’t know a sidewinder from a . . . sycamore. And you’re probably right. But what I do know is that without me, right now, you and your ranch’re in real trouble. Big trouble. You got no place to go but . . . down. I know it. You know it. And everyone of those people out there who work for you, who depend on you, whose very lives are tied to yours . . . with knots nobody can untie from a hitching rail . . . all of them, they know it. And without you, they haven’t got one shred of hope. And without me, neither have you. I’m all you got, Pa. I’m all there is of a future for you—and this ranch—and all these people. This country is changing—it isn’t what it used to be, not what you started out with thirty years ago. We got a civil war coming up, and the time’s coming when we got to chose sides—what sides we choose have got to be the right ones—and we’re going to need each other. Listen to me, Pa, without each other, we’re gong to wind up with only one thing. . . . Nothing. Absolutely nothing.”

Dead silence hung over the set; no one on the sound stage seemed to be breathing. After a moment, Lenny removed his Stetson and placed it on the bar by his elbow. He looked deep into Wally’s eyes. He picked up the shot glass and downed the whisky (tepid tea.) Pushing the glass in front of Wally, he signaled to the bartender.

“Jude, give my son here a drink. A stiff one. . . . And take off that stupid cap, son. Soon’s we finish havin’ this here sarsaparilla, we gonna go down tuh ol’ Harry’s Haberdashery an’ gitcha a new one!”

Pause. Hold the shot. “CUT!” DeBrine screamed, as the entire set erupted in applause.

12

They left the Cadillac at MGM, and Robert drove them all back to Bar Amateurs in the Bentley. Lennie sat up front with Isabelle wedged between him and Robert; Wally was in back between Lolo and Betsy. The top was down and everyone’s hair was blowing wildly, except for Wally who still wore the cap Betsy had given him from Props. It was only two o’clock in the afternoon, and Isabelle would have plenty of time to drive to LAX, give the Chevy to Beverly, and report for her shift. Lennie had a better idea: “Shoot, we’re gonna celebrate!” he said. “Robert’ll drive in an’ fetch ol’ Beverly—Isabelle, you tell ‘em you got the flu or somethin—an’ we’ll all go out an’ have us a wing-bang celebration!” Wally, shouting above the wind, wanted to know what they were celebrating? “We haven’t got the parts yet!” he yelled.

“Like crap we ain’t!” Lennie shot back. “You see the look on ol’ Trent’s face when you slugged down that drink? Ain’t no fuckin’ actor in America, ‘cept maybe Jimmy Stewart, coulda pulled that off! Jay-sus Haich. Christmas, we gonna be the biggest show NBC ever had in prime time! Freddie Lassiter an’ his ol’ man, fuckin’ Justin Lassiter!”

“Leonard . . . ”

“Yeah . . . all right, shoot, I’m sorry.”

Betsy placed her hand over Wally’s, and said, “Daddy may be right. Where’d you ever come up with all that—bullshit?”

Wally put is other hand on top of Betsy’s, and she slipped hers away. “I don’t know. It just seemed like . . . what Freddie would say. I don’t know.”

“Well,” Betsy concluded, “it was . . . brilliant. Cornball B-movie- Howard Hawks-Gary Cooper-horse manure brilliant. ”

Wally turned and looked at her, and he began to lean forward as if he wanted to kiss her; he stopped abruptly and fell back against the rich leather. Lolo, watching them, read nothing into it—perhaps because there was nothing, other than the angelic look of adoration on Wally’s face. But Lolo was right, there was nothing to it—at least from Betsy’s perspective, so far as anyone knew. And who, she reasoned, would know better than Betsy?

What Wally and the McCarthurs did not know, however, was that Trent DeBrine had two more screen tests to shoot that afternoon. The first was a thirty-one year old New York actor named Lester Morgan, a first-rate stage thespian with ten years experience and the roles of Tom Wingfield and Jim O’Conner, in off-Broadway productions of The Glass Menagerie, under his belt. He had no more movie experience than Wally—and no broadcast experience whatsoever—and he was balding rapidly and gaining weight. The other was a local comedian, Wayne Winters, who was being tested only as a courtesy to his agent, Danny Cohen, a brother-in-law to one of DeBrine’s cameramen. Morgan’s appearance and Winters’ Bronx accent would prove their coup de grace as contenders for the role of Freddie Lassiter, and all DeBrine hoped for now was Wally Emerson’s processed film be as rewarding in the projector as it had been in the camera’s view-finder; NBC brass would see the ‘rushes’ Saturday afternoon—DeBrine knew their decision, augmented by his input, would be immediate and final. In the back of his mind, however, he was not sure Lennie McCarthur was the best choice for Justin Lassiter. Unbeknownst to the others, DeBrine had already tested John Howard (for whom Lennie had doubled in Texas Rangers Ride Again) and the director leaned heavily in his direction. With a little makeup to offset his matinee idol good looks, Howard would be a strong draw among the 35 to 54 TV demographic, whereas McCarthur would, in age and name value, skew higher. But Howard’s main misgiving (besides the money) was, the role was not a lead—in fact, it would probably have to fall into a “guest starring” category, as no one was sure how consistent it would be. The writers, so far, had offered only a pilot and four completed scripts, and Justin Lassiter was prominent in only the first two—and not very prominent at that. The show itself would not be slotted into the fall schedule until a pilot was approved, shot and viewed, and DeBrine was hopeful the network would make a fast decision on the father of the lead.

Lennie said the party would begin at the ranch. His first thought was to have Kelvin and the kitchen crew plan on a dinner party for twenty or thirty. Lolo squelched that in a hurry, and it was decided they would call the Beverly Hills Hotel and reserve a private dining room off the Polo Lounge for an intimate gathering for perhaps as many as twelve or fifteen people. Wally said he had a lady friend staying there he’d like to invite, and Lennie said, sure, give her a call—which Wally did, only to learn she had checked out the day before and caught an early flight to Chicago. “Shit,” Wally said, hanging up the phone, and Betsy asked him what was the matter. He shook his head. “Nothing. Friend of mine was there, but she checked out.” Betsy shrugged. “C’est la vie. Win a few, lose a few.” To himself Wally thought, if only you knew. Lennie told Wally to call the Edwardian and tell them he was checking out. “Robert will drive you in to pick up your stuff.” Wally said they might better wait until the part was officially his. Lennie said, “Shoot, no matter what, you ain’t goin’ back to Buffalo, anyway, are you? Besides, we got the parts, ain’t no question ‘bout that.” Lolo said, “I think you should wait until you hear from Trent before you plan any celebration—here or at the Beverly Hills—or anywhere . . . And, Wally, don’t you think you ought to call somebody at your TV station in Buffalo and let them know what’s going on?”

Wally looked at Lolo and realized he had not given a millisecond’s thought to Dick Butterworth or anyone else at WGND. “It’d be a long distance call,” he rationalized, thinking she’d tell him to hold off.

“So?”

“Screw ‘em; call ‘em collect,” Lennie suggested. “Use the phone in the den. It’s a diff’rent number.” He gestured toward the large oak pocket door at the far end of the library, and after moment’s hesitancy, Wally moved away. Betsy followed him.

Wally sat down behind the ornate mahogany desk in the den and watched Betsy move into an antique wingback across from him; he noticed she had not closed the door behind her, and he started to get up and go back to slide it shut. But once standing, he changed his mind and sat back down.

“Remember,” Betsy said, “to dial ‘one’ first, then the area code”

Wally’s eyes left her after a moment, and he looked about the room. It was the first time he had been in Bar Amateur’s den—he hadn’t so much as known it existed—and he was pleasantly surprised at how large, roomy and neat, how well-kept and functional it was. In keeping with the adjacent library, the walls were lined with shelves—many of which actually contained books. Those that did not displayed many framed photographs of both Lennie and Lolo—some even with Betsy—posing with a number of luminaries from stage, screen and politics. He noticed (because it was positioned to be noticed) a black and white shot of Lennie and Lolo together at dinner with Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, along with Don Ameche, Fay Wray, Jean Arthur, and two or three others, probably writers or producers he did not recognize. Betsy saw him linger on the photo; she said, “They’re there with Sidney Howard and George Cukor, in case you’re wondering. It was at a White House private screening of Love’s Labor Lost. Old Will S. couldn’t make it.” There were at least a hundred other photographs scattered on shelves around the room, and Wally was tempted to get up and examine each one closer. But he remained seated; to himself he thought, there will plenty of chances to see these pictures in the next fifty years. Today, he was content to just look at the den—with Betsy as the focal point.

What he didn’t know, of course, was that it was Lolo’s as well as Lennie’s den—or office, actually, where one or both could retire to conduct whatever business was necessary to keep their careers somewhat vibrant and running. Betsy, too, often used the den to study her school lessons and learn whatever lines she needed for random parts. Now, with Lori’s Homeroom an almost certainty, she would be spending more time in the room with heavy drapery covering leaded windows, some of which boasted stained glass. The antique wingbacks, tasseled lamps, wide desks were abundant, and—in the middle of the room—a long mahogany reading table with three well-spaced bankers’ lamps, complete with green oblong shades, formed a centerpiece to the den; the table was flanked by three deep, brown leather judge’s chairs. Wally noticed there were numerous telephones stationed about: one on the desk behind which he sat, one at each end of the reading desk, one on a round table near the end of one of the leather sofas, one beside a lonely judge’s chair across the room, and one other on a high pedestal table close to the pocket door entrance. Betsy, accurately reading Wally’s mind, said, “In case you’re wondering, they’re all the same number and controlled by buttons on the one in front of you. We can have serious conference calls in here if we want.”

“You know something—I just noticed, these and the one in the library are the only phones I’ve seen anywhere in the house. I don’t think there’s even one in my, uh, bedroom.”

“There isn’t. I do have a private line in my room—so do Mom and Dad in theirs—there’s one in the library and the kitchen, one in the garage, and one out by the pool. The main number is the one in my parents’ room—all the rest are unlisted—even these here in the den. Dad’s a fanatic about telephone numbers—so’s Mom. And I’m getting that way, too. You will be also, eventually.”

“Lennie gave me his number, back in Buffalo.”

“For the one in his bedroom. If you hadn’t gotten through to him there, you’d probably still be sitting in Buffalo.”

“Well . . . this is a great room. I didn’t even know there was a den.”

“Mom had it added after they bought the ranch years ago. They wanted some place in the house where they could work—think—be alone—in real privacy.”

“The sliding door that goes into the wall—”

“It’s called a ‘pocket door’. Mom’s idea. Saves a lot of space, and it’s soundproof—weighs about a ton. Rolls at a touch on bearings the size of basketballs.”

“Really . . .”

“Yeah. . . . You better call Buffalo.”

“What am I gonna tell them?’

“The truth might be good. Mind if I stay?”

Wally shook his head. “Nope.” He wondered what difference it would have made if he did mind.

It was just after twelve noon in Buffalo, and Dick Butterworth had not yet left for lunch. He was about to, and Wally had caught him just as he was leaving. “So,” he said, anxious to make it brief, “how’s tricks on the Coast? Havin’ a good time? Meet anybody I know? . . You didn’t call collect, did you?”

At the start, Wally’s intention was to spit it all out in one sentence and quit on the spot. The sound of Butterworth’s voice, however, the reality he was actually on the line and listening to his boss, so to speak, at the other end—not only that, not just his boss, but the person who had hired him in the first place five years ago, had given him his one chance, his Big Break into the upper strata of local TV and radio. . . . The pending announcement suddenly seemed shallow, indefinite, and even mean-spirited.

“Yeah,” he said, “LA is—great. Tell Bannister Terry Powell and his wife— and Lennie McCarthur’s family . . . they’ve been swell to me.”

“Great. So?” There was a long silence. “So? You broke, or what? You get drunk and take a leak in the hotel lobby? They toss you out? You in jail? . . What?”

“Dick . . .”

Betsy mouthed: Tell him!

Lennie stuck his head into the den. “We ain’t goin out after all,” he growled. “Your mom’s got a headache, an’ she says this whole thing’s premature. . . . You got your boss on the line, Wally? Lemme talk to ‘im.” Lennie took two steps into the room, and Betsy waved him back. “Let him handle it, Daddy—go away!” Lennie muttered to himself, “What the fuck,” and walked back into the library. Betsy held out her hand, and without a word Wally handed her the telephone.

“Hi—Mr. Butterworth, this is Betsy Rand. . . . Yes sir, the one and only. Ha! Yes . . . I’m Lennie McCarthur’s daughter—”

Dick Butterworth knew exactly who Betsy Rand was; he might not have known Gloria Jean, Ann Rutherford, or Peggy Ann Garner as easily as he would have known Judy Garland and June Allyson—but in Betsy’s case, although he had seen her in less than five roles—two in movies and three on TV—he recognized the name and her voice. “I’d know that voice anywhere!” he said. “How do you know . . . our Wally?” Our Wally? Betsy chuckled at that.

“Mr. Butterworth,” Betsy said, very softly. “Our Wally is sitting right here with me in my daddy’s den at my daddy’s ranch—in fact, I think he’s going to be moving in here with us for a while, and it may be a spell before he makes it back to Buffalo . . . ” There was an audible silence at the Eastern end of the line. “You there, Mr. Butterworth?”

Dick Butterworth wanted to know what she meant.

“Well,” Betsy elaborated, “I guess what I mean is, Wally’s taken a screen test for an NBC show—should make you happy, NBC and all—and there’s a good chance he may get offered the part. If he is, I doubt very much he will make it back to Buffalo in this life . . .”

“A show?”

“Yes. Rusted Spurs. His screen test was . . .” she glanced at Wally and smiled . . . “sensational. Well, anyway, whether he gets the part or not, right now it’s unofficial, but even so, I wouldn’t count on him coming back to Buffalo for—a while.” Again, there was a long silence. “Is he still there?” Butterworth wanted to know. “Of course.” The program director was solicitous. “Can you put him on?” Betsy handed the phone back to Wally.

“Emerson, what the fuck is going on out there!”

Wally, his voice even and controlled, told him the entire story, from beginning to end, from his dinner at the Powells to his recording in Edmund O’Brien’s basement studio to the screen test at MGM. “And, Dick, let’s be right up front—whether I get this job or not, I’m staying out here and I’m going to find work in the movies. This is what I was meant to do, and it’s what I’m going to do. The McCarthurs have taken me in like, like, uh, I don’t know, a long lost son, and—”

“Oh, brother . . . ”

“No, I’m serious. . . . Can you send me some money?”

“What!”

“I’ve only got a few hundred bucks left, and you owe me for all of March—”

“Jesus . . .” Another long silence; then, “Man, you’ve got balls.”

“Yeah—but I’m serious, Dick . . .”

“And so am I. You’ve got a fucking contract—”

“I verbal one—”

“Verbal, schmerbal—it’s a contract!”

“A verbal contract ain’t worth the paper it’s written on,” Wally replied, winking at Betsy, who whispered, “Sam Goldfish would be proud.”

Dick Butterworth was stymied—the AFTRA contract required only two weeks’ notice, and he’d just gotten it; Wally had that much vacation time left, and his notification, though not in writing, was legal. The program director could think of nothing more to say until he came up with the only thing left: “You sonofabitch, I’ll see to it you never work in this town again—you fucking ingrate!”

Wally sighed. “Life isn’t fair . . .”

Betsy added, soto voce: “And then you die.”

The celebration Friday night, such as it was, remained at Bar Amateurs and was made up of six people: Lennie, Lolo, Betsy, Wally and the Follet sisters, Beverly and Isabelle. The glamorous H&V Taxi dispatchers both called in sick for their Friday shifts, and since they were off Saturday and Sunday anyway, the weekend was theirs. Robert drove Wally to the Edwardian, and while he was packing and settling his bill, the chauffeur took the girls to their faux-condo in Western Avenue, and they returned with stuffed overnight bags. Robert carried Wally’s monster suitcase up to his Deadwood Suite, and Betsy came in to watch him unpack.

“You don’t have what I would exactly call ‘California’ clothes,” she observed. She waved at his two sport coats—one a sinister corduroy with wide lapels, the other a muted plaid. “And those shirts are strictly Upstate New York.”

“In Buffalo,” he said, to some extent defensively, “we say ‘Western New York’ not ‘Upstate’.”

Betsy chuckled gaily. “The only thing ‘Western’ about them is that no self-respecting tenderfoot would be caught dead in them! Say, why don’t we mosey on inta town, pardner, an’ git us some new duds on Monday few ya?”

Wally was about to say her imitation of Betty Hutton’s Annie Oakley was perfect when Lennie bounded into the room.

“Lemme tell you one thing,” Lennie proclaimed. “If we got sumpthin to celebrate Saturday, this ol’ place’s gonna explode Sunday! Wally, go get on the horn an’ tell them Powells an’ Donlevy an’ the O’Briens an’ that whole gang to stand by for action! I’m goin’ downstairs an’ call summa my own buddies!”

“No phone in here . . .”

“Shoot, we’ll getcha one firs’ thing Monday! Go use the one in my room. Betsy—show ‘im where hit is.”

Lennie and Lolo’s bedroom was as close to Hollywood extravagance as one could imagine, short of Pickfair or San Simeon. The entrance was a canopied blue and white striped thoroughfare from the Valentino era that actually curved off from the hallway at a forty-five degree angle before opening to a master bedroom the size of a small banquet hall. There were two king-size beds in the center of the room—not square or rectangular—but symmetrically round beds abutted and forming a perfect number 8, either upright and lying sideways, depending on where one stood to look at them. Not one but two fireplaces, wide and deep and wood-burning (currently dormant) graced opposite walls, leaving the southern wall blank and formed into a proscenium arch of triple-pane glass from floor to ceiling, an unobstructed window the size of a highway billboard, covered when necessary by a rich maroon theatrical curtain that could be activated from a remote control handy to either bed, rendering the room in pitch darkness. The view, at sunset, facing the distant ocean, was of paralyzing beauty. Behind the remaining wall, through tall French doors, was a maze of four more rooms: two walk-in closets big as Pullman cars with mirrors on three sides, and two huge bathrooms. The bathrooms were unmistakably different—one for Lolo and one for Lennie—and the differences were as unique as their occupants. Lolo’s was, at first glance, typical: a shower boasting six separate showerheads, a toilet and bidet, each in private cubicles with louvered doors, a sauna for four behind a glass door, an eight foot Jacuzzi tub with gold faucets, and a vanity with two sinks the size of bushel baskets covering a whole wall in front of an illuminated mirror that reflected the entire room; above were rows of recessed flood lights. Two tall-backed, tufted chairs sat in front of the vanity; there was a matching curved sofa between the shower stall and the Jacuzzi. As an added attraction there was a constant fan rotating from its perch in the ceiling, fifteen feet from the floor, which, mentioning the floor, was of Vermont granite tiles, heated electrically from beneath.

Lennie’s bathroom next door was a contrast with fewer surprises. The décor was rustic, early American frontier, and although the dimensions were similar, the amenities were strictly Lennie and no one else. For example, the toilet was behind an outhouse door complete with half-moon cutouts; the commode was of a type of porcelain crafted to look like rough Oklahoma pine—and it was a “two-holer” sans seats and lids but with perfectly functioning plumbing. There was a five by seven shower with multiple showerheads, but there was no Jacuzzi and no sauna. (“What I want a sauna for? We wanna get naked so’s I can watch Lolo sweat, I can jus’ go next door!”) In lieu of workout equipment, Lennie had opted for a thirty-five by eight by five-foot lap pool with underwater lighting. His vanity and sink, well-mirrored and lighted, sported faucets of simple maple, which could be turned on and off with a mere touch. The floors were covered with a number of grizzly and polar bear hides flanked by mammoth leather chairs and a sofa.

“The phone’s right there,” Betsy pointed out, “on the table next to the first round bed.”

“All this and just one phone?” Wally asked.

“No, there’re two. Mom’s is built into her pillow. The earpiece is buried in foam; God only knows where the mouthpiece is.”

“How does she dial?”

“I don’t know. Voice-activated, I guess.”

Wally shot Betsy a look of disbelief. Betsy laughed and plopped on her father’s bed.

While rummaging in his wallet for the Powells’ number, Wally glanced up occasionally at Betsy lying prone in front of him. It occurred to him again how simply beautiful she was—even at fourteen (almost fifteen.) But it was a strange and rare kind of beauty, a sort of permanent physical casting that would not change much as the years went by. Betsy Rand would be one of those rarest of all actresses who would reach stardom while, at twenty, playing women twice her age—and remain, at seventy, playing housewives, mothers, and career women in their thirties and forties. As she aged, her few wrinkles would require little makeup; they would be faint markers on the roadside, Burma Shave poetry of experience and achievement; ironically, Wally could see her playing torrid love scenes with leading men half her age—either plus or minus. His eyes wandered down the short length of her trim body, and he knew that over the years she would neither gain nor lose more than an ounce or two, and the size of her entire wardrobe would remain constant—while he, in his dotage, would become flabby, shapeless, balding, an overweight prune, she would, at his side, be more like his granddaughter, even a great-granddaughter to people who did not know their history. Of course, those people were aliens from another planet, and Wally and Betsy would know they didn’t count in the overall scheme of things.

Once on the phone, it didn’t take Wally long to tell Terry Powell of his adventure at MGM, and the veteran actor seemed anxious to tell his wife Abby all about it. “Listen, fella,” he said, “I’ll call Brian and Eddie and fill them in. Tell Lennie if the news is good, we’ll definitely be there. Hell, man, we’ve got a vested interest in you now! Even if the news isn’t good, call me back and we’ll get together anyway and cry on each other’s shoulder. If I had a dollar for every screen test I got cut out of . . . How’s Lolo and Miss Betsy? . . . Damn, this sounds really great!”

Dinner that evening was by the pool, catered by Poteet’s—in fact, Lennie took Lee Poteet aside and warned him that he might be hosting a major league bar-b-que tomorrow night in the corral if “certain good things doan git cut off at the pass.” Poteet assumed Lennie had won the Las Vegas Lottery. “Better than that,” Lennie assured him, with a conspirator’s wink and taking a healthy sip of Jack Daniel’s. “A fucking lot better than the fucking lottery!” Lolo, near by, shot them both a meaningful glance. “Shit, I’m sorry,” Lennie lamented, but not remorsefully.

Isabelle and Beverly came to dinner in swimsuits—skimpy bikinis—and before accepting daiquiris from Poteet’s ogling staff, dove gracefully into the deep end. “Good idea!” Betsy said, and disappeared inside one of the cabanas to change. Lolo watched from the impromptu serving bar, thought about it, then shook her head when Lennie said to go get her suit and “show them gals what a bathin’ beauty’s supposed tuh look like!”

Betsy Rand came out a few minutes later wearing a two-piece modified bikini that made Wally’s knees tremble. He gulped a mouthful of Jack Daniel’s and never noticed how much it burned going down. Jesus, he thought, what chance do I have? Slowly and deliberately—she knew at least half a dozen male eyes were on her—she moved to the board, walked out as though an Olympic finalist, bounced three or four times, and executed a perfect swan dive, cutting the water cleanly with barely an extra splash or ripple. If four of the six men watching her were not hired hands of Poteet’s, there would have been a round of appreciative applause. As it was, only Wally and Lennie responded with a simultaneous Wow!

“I got a great idea,” Lennie said, munching on a slice of pizza and watching the Follet sisters and Betsy splashing each other in the shallow end of the pool. “If we git these parts in Rusted Spurs—which we sure as shootin’ will—why doant we hire on those two gals as goffers to run innerference for us? You know, get us coffee an’ scrip’ re-writes, answer the phones an’—you know—take care a keepin’ riff-raff away from us, pickin’ up messages, runnin’ errands—all that stuff. Whaddya think? They both got drivers’ licenses. They can’t cost all that much.” Wally wondered if it was something he and Lennie were going to need. “Sure is!” Lennie assured him. “Everybody out here’s got goffers all over the place. Even the third leads who never know where their next job’s comin from got himself at least one, maybe two. Ol’ Betsy’s gonna latch onto them gals if we doant—I can see it comin’. Whaddaya think?”

Wally liked the idea. “I don’t know—sounds okay to me. Can we get ‘em for what they make now?”

“Sure—why not? How much can they be getting from H and V?

“Why don’t we ask them?”

Lennie went to the edge of the pool and called the twins over, looking long and hard at Beverly’s red hair and freckles. “You sure you gals’re real sisters?” They pulled themselves up and sat on the tile apron of the pool, kicking water at Betsy. Lennie knelt down beside them. “How’d you gals like to come an’ work for Wally an’ me once we sign on for the TV series? How much y’all gittin’’ a week now?”

Isabelle looked at Beverly, and they both spoke almost simultaneously: “Forty-five a week”—“Sixty a week.” Lennie and Wally both laughed, as Lennie said, “Tell you what—y’all come work for us an’ we’ll pay you each fifty-two-fifty a week, an’ we’ll even toss in a new ol’ car so’s then you each’ll have one. Y’all will come with us to the studio each day, come out here’r wherever they set us up with a office, an’ come on board as our—our—shoot, I dunno—our execative assistants. Whaddya say?”

Beverly said, “We get hospitalization at H and V.”

“How much that cost?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, find out an’ we’ll getcha the same policy.”

Wally wondered how they would do that, and Lennie explained they’d be added to their policy once the deal was set with NBC. . . . .“They will?” . . . “Networks do it all the time.”. . . . “They do?”. . . . “Shoot, kid, let me worry ‘bout it soon’s DeBrine calls.”

The call from Trent DeBrine came at four-thirty Saturday afternoon.

13

From the front porch at the McCarthur’s ranch the view down the tree-lined driveway was limited, due in no small part to the trees themselves; but also to the frequent bends in the road that began almost immediately upon driving under the wrought-iron archway: BAR ∩ AMATEURS. The road was less than a quarter mile long, and the only indication company was coming was the ball of dust an automobile would kick up and be seen once the cloud gained altitude above the trees or was blown off to the side where nothing blocked its appearance. Lenny rocked back and forth on the porch with Lolo and Wally in similar chairs, as Robert returned with Isabelle, Beverly and Betsy; their arrival duly announced by the dust devil the Cadillac created. It was at that moment the telephone rang, and Lenny heard it from the library, through the screen door. “Lucille or Patty will get it,” he said, and Wally admired his phony nonchalance.

“Hit fo’ y’all, Misser McCarthur!” Patty shouted from within.

Lenny pulled himself out of the rocker. “See? Toldja.”

It was, as expected, Trent DeBrine. Lenny stood by the sofa in the library and took the phone from the maid Patty, who promptly left the room. “Yo, Trent,” Lennie said, amicably. “How y’all doin’?”

DeBrine explained he was still at NBC, and he was surrounded by a bevy of executives from New York as well as Burbank. “Lenny, I’m here with Morris Nussbaum, Sy Frazer, Homer Gladstone, and a whole bunch of NBC people—Nussbaum flew last night just to see the test films, and he’s got to get back tomorrow soon as possible. My own people—Cambridge, Georgie Kahn, Heck Winstrom, and Peter Fennell—they’re all here, and—“

“So, what’s the story? We in’r out?”

“Well, that’s why I’m calling. . . . Is Emerson still there?”

“Sure. Where would he be?”

“Well, that’s great. They want to meet him—and rather than have him come in here, we want to come out there, to your place—they want to meet him face to face. They want a chance to meet Lolo and Betsy, too, as well. And you. Is it okay if we come out there?”

“Right now?

“Sure. We leave now, we’ll be there in an hour or less. Depends on traffic—you know. . . . Is it okay with you and Lolo?”

“Sure. But what’s the story? We inner we out?”

“I . . . think they want to talk to Wally up front, you know, in person, you know how it goes. They can be such . . . you know. They come all the way out here to the Coast, and they gotta have things their own way. . . . He still have that stupid Grapes of Wrath hat—he got it with him?—the one Betsy found in Props?

“Yeah. I think so. Whadud they say ’bout me?”

“Look . . . did Emerson ever tie up with an agent? He sign on with anybody yet?

“Yeah. Me.”

“I mean . . . shit, Lennie, you know what I mean. Is it okay? We’re ready to leave right now.”

“You guys gonna want dinner?” Lennie asked, but DeBrine had hung up.

Lennie took his time returning to the front porch, and when he did Robert was just parking the car by the steps, and the girls were climbing out. Lolo wanted to know if that was Trent on the phone. “Sure was,” Lennie told her. “So? What’d he say?” . . . “Told me they’re on their way out here.” . . . “Here? Who? . . . .”

“Trent an’ whole bunch o’ NBC folk. They wanna meet ol’ Wally here face tuh face.”

Wally came out of his rocker and took one step toward the railing.

The last part of Lennie’s remark about wanting to meet Wally face-to-face was the only thing Betsy heard. “Aaeeeeeee! Woooeeee! You got it! Hot damn, you old devil you—you got it!” She threw her arms about his neck, jumped up and wrapped her legs around his waist, and planted a kiss full on his mouth, a sudden explosion that nearly bowled him over. “I knew it!” she cried. “I just knew it!”

Lolo also stood up; she laced her arm through Lenny’s. “What’d he say about you, honey? What’d they think about you?”

“Well,” Lennie shrugged. “You know how he is—always the cussed, eternal prick. He wanted to know if Wally here had an agent yet. I told him, yeah. Me. That’s when he hung up. . . . They gonna be here ‘fore six. We gotta tell Kelvin we gonna need drinks for the whole shebang. They want dinner, they can take potluck like the rest of us, I guess.”

The Follet twins, accurately discerning the meaning of Betsy’s reaction to all the excitement, came up one by one and embraced Wally, each kissing his cheek. Beverly said, “I knew that crazy hat Betsy got for you’d do the trick!” and Isabelle said, in a whisper only he heard, “You might be lousy in bed, but you sure are one freakin’ actor! Congradulashuns!”

By the time Trent DeBrine arrived in a stretch Lincoln limousine with Morris Nussbaum, NBC’s president of entertainment—Sy Fraser, NBC’s West Coast vice president of program development—Homer Gladstone, NBC’s executive vice president for actors’ equity—Georgie Kahn and DeBrine’s principal A.D. Josh Cambridge—Heck Winstrom, MGM’s v.p. of administration—and Peter Fennell, Los Angeles’ executive secretary for SAG and AFTRA—followed by a second limo with staffers assigned to each person in the first limo—Lennie was on his third Jack Daniel’s. Wally had tried to join him, but Betsy said, “No—when they leave, you can have as much to drink as you want. Not until. They smell liquor on your breath, they’ll think your typical Hollywood.”

“I’ve already had a couple drinks,” Wally protested.

“And that’s all you’re going to have.”

Assembled in the den, seated in every available space, some of the staffers cross-legged on the floor, Navajo-style, Kelvin went about the room making sure that everyone wanting a drink of some sort was offered and served something of some sort—most of the staffers and NBC people opted for Cokes or Dr Peppers and set them on doilies on the floor and end tables. The abstainers among the ‘brass’ were Nussbaum, Winstrom, and Fraser—the latter, begrudgingly, in deference to Nussbaum. Lolo and the Follet twins had Cokes; Betsy and Wally sat on the floor with ginger ales, while Betsy kibitzed with a young lady she knew from MGM. DeBrine made the anxious announcement.

“Mr. Nussbaum and Mr. Fraser were, to put it mildly, much taken with your screen test, Wally. I’m very happy to say that once we work out the nuts and bolts, so to speak, Rusted Spurs is going to be a frontrunner in NBC’s fall schedule. And from all appearances, it looks like our Wally here is going to play the lead role of Freddie Lassiter. There are a lot of the nuts and bolts for us to work out—first of all, Wally—how about that cap you wore? You still got it?” Wally reached into his back pocket, withdrew the hat, and snuggled it atop his head. Several in the room applauded lightly, some breathed “Ahhh!” “I gotta say,” continued DeBrine, “that hat was a stroke of genius. I thought it was silly and outta place—shows how much I know!—but when Mr. Nussbaum and the rest of the NBC people saw it, they went bananas! Put Freddie in a Stetson, a cowboy hat, and he’s just another Eastern kid trying to look like a cowpoke—Mr. Nussbaum spotted it right away—this kid in a cap that’s somewhere between a baseball cap and an Irish, uh, whaddyacallit, and what you’ve got is a kid in a hat that sets him apart from all the others around him—like Henry Fonda did in The Grapes of Wrath—you know what I mean—I mean, here’s a kid that’s one-in-a-million, a kid that represents something, something we haven’t got on TV right now, and something we need. Just like we needed Tom Joad back in the 30’s, right off the pages of Steinbeck’s novel—and like for TV this is just like it was back then—right now we need a Freddie Lassiter, someone we can look up to, believe in, and no matter what happens to the Lassiters or any other of the good people on the show, we know that because Freddie is there, it’s all going to turn out okay, everything’s going to be all right. That’s what TV is all about—no matter what happens, in the end everything’s going to be all right. Look at Wally’s face. Is that the face that’s gonna fix everything so it comes out all right—or what? Well, it’s what we believe, what we’ve decided. Wally Emerson is going to be Freddie Lassiter, and this country’s gonna survive and be all right, so long as we have Freddie Lassiters to make it happen. Good work, kid. . . .You’re in.”

Betsy Rand thought she was going to throw up. She leaned to her left and whispered in Wally’s ear: “What a loada shit!”

DeBrine paused for breath, and Morris Nussbaum filled the vacuum. “Yes, well, like Trent says, we were really excited when I, we, all of us saw Wally Emerson’s test. Even Mr. Sarnoff,” he added, clearing his throat as of the mere mention of David Sarnoff’s name caused some sort of laryngeal coagulation, “thought it was—marvelous, superb—masterful. He rarely looks at screen tests—in fact, this may have been a first!” Nussbaum was not necessarily what one would call a ‘fat man’, but he possessed heavy features: a protruding abdomen and a huge nose, thick arms and hands that extended from his wrists like NASCAR caution flags, both abnormally pale yellow. He was not bald, but his hairdo seemed as though he wanted to be. His grayish-brown hair was combed in a downward stroke that left an unfurled dingy sheet over his forehead in something of a ‘bang’. The result, waving above thick shell-rimmed glasses when he moved, made one wonder if he were deliberately striving for a humorous appearance—or else hiding a forehead disfigured by embarrassing psoriasis. Having taken the floor, he knew he would not be interrupted. “So, there you have it. Rusted Spurs will go into ‘pilot’ within the next two weeks. We have four scripts, and three are approved—as is the pilot, so they tell us. From what we’ve seen, Mr. Emerson here is ideal for the part. Mr. DeBrine has covered him lock, stock and barrel with every nuance of the character, shot him from every angle to, uh, convey that here is a young man to be reckoned with—right down even to that special hat he will wear throughout the season, and forever, as far as we’re concerned. From what our people keep telling me, this character, Freddie Whatshisface, will, could, will, become a subsidiary brand among young people—that hat he wears, not to mention his boots and jacket, his jeans—whatever Props and Wardrobe can come up with—God knows what all—could easily become a franchise for merchandising like were never seen, since maybe Fess Parker and that idiotic coonskin cap. But that’s getting way ahead of ourselves. Freddie—I mean Wally, Mr. Emerson here—this is a part a lot of actors both here and in New York would, uh, would cut off their ears for—but you’ve got it, young man. You’re the, uh, chosen one, and we want to cut right through the chase and lay out how we see it working, I mean, this whole thing.” He snapped his fingers and Homer Gladstone withdrew papers from his briefcase, which he quickly handed over. “What we’re talking about, what we want to offer you, is a flat fifteen hundred per episode for the pilot and the first three shows. After that, you’ll get two thousand per show for the remainder of the season. These are things we normally talk about in private, with your agent for his approval, but with Lennie McCarthur here, according to Mr. DeBrine, he is your agent de facto, at least for the time being, and there’s nothing Lolo and Betsy Rand and, uh, these other people don’t know about, anyway. But . . . then next year—and we know as sure as the sun comes up tomorrow, there will be a next year—we renegotiate on the strength of the first season and whatever happens with season number two . . . so . . . will happen for the benefit of everyone, and it’s a win-win for you, the writers, Orin Farmer, the network, the viewers and, uh—watchcha think—Mr. Emerson?”

Betsy Rand asked, “Who the heck is Orin Farmer?” and everyone looked at her as though she’d just asked the name of the sailor who first cried Land Ho! from the bird’s nest of the Santa Maria.

“Oh, nobody at all!” Sy Frazer said sarcastically. “Just the silly bloke who created the whole show in the first place!”

Lennie looked up from his Jack Daniel’s. “Then where the hell is the egghead—an’ what kind of a name is ‘Orin’?”

“Well,” Nussbaum jumped in to explain, first giving Frazer a glance that said what an asshole he could be, “writers—even creators—rarely bother with cast negotiations—”

“I doant see,” Lennie observed, “that this is what I’d call a ‘cast negotiation’. Seems to me you’re hopin’ to sign up your lead players right here an’ now, if I’m readin’ all this right. If not, if I’m wrong, well, shoot, I’ll jus’ go tell Kelvin to fix us all another drink.”

DeBrine took the ball. “Nope,” he said, “we’re all getting the straight dope and not putting the horse before the cart. . . . NBC wants Wally here for the part of Freddie Lassiter, and that’s what Morris Nussbaum is driving at. This is going to be the first step in Wally’s, uh, journey up the ladder to, you know, TV—uh—stardom. It’s a can’t miss situation with a show that has the potential of Rusted Spurs. I mean, the country is ripe for this sort of anti-hero stuff, where a regular Mr. Anybody can swing into action and save the day. The country has had it with the Jim Arnesses and Gunsmokes on the small screen. They’re up to here with the James Garners and Chuck Connorses and Clint Walkers. This country is ready for a Wally Emerson, somebody they can really identify with, somebody just like them, a guy who can’t get his gun outta his holster in less than ten seconds, and then probably blows off half his toes, somebody whose only fight he ever won was a spelling bee. Freddie Lassiter’s the man—and Wally Emerson is Freddie Lassiter!”

Everyone, even the twins, turned and stared at Wally as if they expected him to suddenly radiate glorious light beams from every orifice, every pore. No one said a word. Finally, Wally sighed heavily, took Betsy’s hand, which she took back and interlocked with her other in her lap, and Wally spoke for the first time since the entourage had arrived. “I don’t know what to say,” was all he said. A dreary silence hung over the room until Lolo spoke up and said, “At this point, if the camera was rolling, Trent would cue ‘audio’ and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir would segue into Amazing Grace, and Kleenex would pop outta every purse in every theater in America. And Wally here would be seen standing over his pa’s casket and . . . ”

“What you should say, kid,” Lennie asserted, ‘is all you gotta say: jus’ ask ‘where the hell do I sign’.”

Wally got up and abandoned Betsy for the first time in their short life together, and it was not noted by either of them. He started to walk over to where Lennie was sitting, but he stopped and approached Morris Nussbaum. He looked at the older man and realized that, as an actor, he was ogling the face of God. Morris Nussbaum—the president of NBC’s entertainment division—had the power to send Wally to professional Hell with the wave of a NASCAR flag. For a brief second, Wally felt himself hurtling head over heels down the putrid shaft to an eternity of permanent obscurity.

“Mr. Nussbaum,” he said, his Grapes of Wrath cap jutting at a straightforward pitch from just inches above his frowning brow. “I don’t want you to think for a minute I don’t appreciate all you and your network are trying to do for me. I came out here from Buffalo, New York, with nothing more than a silly, yeah, stupid dream—and right now I’m not even sure what that dream was, or even if it was a dream at all. Maybe it’s all just some nightmare. . . . Ever since I was a little kid sitting in the back rows of the Elmwood Theater on Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo, I’ve had it in my mind I wanted to be a movie actor. We didn’t have any TV back then, and even if we had, my family could never have afforded one. I knew I was no Burt Lancaster, no John Garfield or Errol Flynn, no Robert Taylor or Zachary Scott—the best I ever saw myself up there as was a better-looking Sterling Holloway, or maybe a tall Mickey Rooney—once or twice I even thought I had a chance to be a decent Dick Haymes or Donald O’Conner, but I can’t dance, can’t sing—I was so naïve back then I thought that if any studio wanted me bad enough—and they all would—they would teach me how to sing and dance. Shoot, as Lennie would say, they would make me a star, in spite of myself. Of course, that was years before I ever got into radio, or local TV, and started meeting and interviewing people like Lennie McCarthur—and thought I ever had the slightest chance to come to Hollywood and meet certain people who would, well, make things happen for me that I could never have expected to happen. People like Terry Powell, Brian Donlevy, Edmund O’Brien. . . . It’s all—fate. Kismet, the poets call it. Well, call it what you want, it’s what has happened to me, the skinny, star-struck kid from Buffalo’s north side. And now that it’s happened, like I guess it has—it’s not what I expected. I’m not sure it’s even what I want.”

Betsy Rand knew what was coming next, and she got to her feet and moved to stand beside Wally. She took his hand and whispered, “Go ahead. Tell ‘em.”

Wally looked down at her, at the baby face that would never grow up nor grow old, and he knew that all the Rusted Spurs, all the movies and TV shows, all the universal glory in theater he might ever attain would be a celestial glimmer, a flickering of the immense stardom she was destined to achieve. With or without him. But . . . preferably with him.

“Gentlemen,” he said softly (DeBrine later wrote in his memoirs it was the one speech he wished he could have filmed,) “I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for coming all the way out here for this.” Self-consciously, he removed his Grapes of Wrath hat, looked at it almost mournfully, then placed it back on his head. In his mind, he pictured himself in an ill-fitting broadcloth shirt and bib-overalls, a grim and clean-shaven Henry Fonda with Jane Darwell at his side. His voice, never cracking, never rising to anything close to dramatic pitch, was soft and even, with no trace of an accent that might have slipped in west of the Ohio River. “I don’t see myself playing the part of Freddie Lassiter without partnering with Lennie McCarthur as my pa.” (Nussbaum swore back in New York that Wally’s inflection of ‘pa’ was the only time NBC’s president of entertainment thought of Tom Joad.)

“So, as Mr. Nussbaum so graciously said, ‘there it is’.” He turned and placed his arm about Betsy’s shoulders, and with his other hand, reached for Lennie, and they shook hands. “Sorry, folks. Thanks, but no, thanks. No Lennie for Justin Lassiter, no Wally for Freddie.”

DeBrine and Morris Nussbaum spoke simultaneously: “Hold on!” and the director deferred to the network boss. “Wally,” he said, frustrated, seeming to grope for words, “we understand—perfectly—how you feel, and we don’t want to sound patronizing, but there are things about this you don’t, uh, can’t understand. Trent DeBrine has tested several potentials for the father role, and John Howard would be perfect—there’s a lot going for him—uh, years of experience as a leading man and a character actor—his age and looks—for gosh sakes, he even looks a little bit like you’re going to look when you’re his age! Plus, he’s at a point in his career when this sort of, uh, transition from the big screen to the small screen will be ideal. . . . Lennie’s a great actor and all, but—”

“Bullshit,” Lennie cut in. “You ain’t got John Howard no more’n Lolo here’s ever gonna play Jane in the next Tarzan. And the minute Ed Sullivan or somebody lets it outta the bag you’re payin’ Wally here a measly fifteen hundred a show, so’s you can git John Howard for a grand, he’s gonna tell you to shove Justin Lassiter up your fat ass! His agent’ll shit a brick!”

For once Lolo did not reprimand Lenny for his language. DeBrine said, “How much you think we offered him?”

“Not a nickel more than eight hundred a show, an’ no guarantee of more than five shows a season. An’ no credit bigger’n ‘Guest Starrin’. Shoot, you got no more chance a nailin’ John Howard than ol’ Wally here has git’n his job back in Buff’lo!”

Thirty minutes later the meeting at Bar Amateurs was over. Kelvin served one more round of drinks—this time Wally had a double Jack Daniel’s over ice—and after declining dinner, the occupants of two stretch limousines pulled away from the ranch, and Lennie, Lolo, Betsy, Wally, and the Follet twins sat down in assorted rockers and gliders on the front porch. Lolo reached up and started to turn on a lamp.

“Leave it off, honey,” Lennie sighed. “This is the best time o’ day, when the sun’s almost gone.”

In the lead limo Morris Nussbaum turned on the overhead console light and rifled through the lengthy contracts in his lap. Trent DeBrine, sitting across from him and struggling to open a bottle of champagne, said, “Mr. N—you are a genius, an unmitigated, unscrupulous genius. You’d make Sam Goldwyn look like a saint.”

Nussbaum chuckled and looked again at Wally Emerson’s and Lennie McCarthur’s signatures on the contracts before him. “Nothing unscrupulous about it, Trent. McCarthur saw through the John Howard ploy right away. I knew Emerson would back out of the deal without Lennie, and I knew Lennie would gladly sign for two thousand a show and a guarantee of only three episodes a season. The frosting on the cake was the look on everyone’s faces when we offered Emerson fifteen hundred per show. Getting him for five— locking him and McCarthur in for seven grand total was what made the game worth playing.”

DeBrine shook his head in amazement. “How’d you know?”

“Simple. McCarthur’s legacy is not stunts and doubling. Not even acting. Look at Lolo. Look at how Lennie looks at Wally Emerson—how he sees himself twenty, twenty-five years ago. Look at his lifestyle.”

“I don’t get it.”

Nussbaum glanced out the darkened window at the California sunset. “Look at that baby-faced kid of his. Look at Betsy Rand. Use your head, Trent. That kid’s going to be one of the biggest, brightest stars America’s ever seen. That Betsy Rand—that’s what she’s going to be—a super star. And that’s, she’s—along with Wally Emerson—the daughter McCarthur’s got and son he’s never had—that’s Lennie’s legacy.”

The champagne cork popped, startling everyone as the limo pulled away under the wrought-iron arch: BAR ∩ AMATEURS.

PART TWO

“ . . . the most important reasons for living is to do something—live outside of yourself and put together an idea, an idea that you want to explore and then complete. . . . Awaken your creative sensitivities!”

Jack Palance

14

JOHN MARSH

“So,” Johnny Carson said, after sipping from the cup on his desk, “you and Lennie McCarthur were friends even before you came to Hollywood and landed the part of Freddie Lassiter on Rusted Spurs . . .?”

“No,” Wally replied, squinting slightly in the glare of the Kliegs, “not really. I had interviewed him on my TV show back in Buffalo, and he said if I was ever out West, I should look him up. I guess that’s what I did.”

In the past five years Wally had made twenty-seven guest appearances on NBC’s Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and on thirteen occasions Carson had asked the same question. Wally’s first and ninth appearances had been with Joey Bishop as guest host, his sixth and sixteenth with Dick Cavette, and his twentieth with Joan Rivers—and none of them had ever once mentioned Lennie McCarthur. In fact, Cavette was more interested in the plot of Rusted Spurs with Freddie, a graduate of Harvard with a law degree, going to live on his father’s ranch in Oklahoma, circa 1859, after his mother, long separated from the elder Lassiter, had passed away in Boston. Why Freddie, approximate age twenty-five, went to live with his dad was never made clear, but apparently the twists and turns of life in the Old West were more conducive to high drama than whatever vicissitudes Freddie might have encountered in nineteenth century Boston. Advertisers flocked to Rusted Spurs, which from its first season was the nation’s number one TV hour, and NBC couldn’t be happier. Morris Nussbaum’s prediction that America was thirsting for a believable anti-hero was valid after all, and the show skewed higher with 18 to 54’s than its nearest competition on CBS and ABC combined in the coveted Thursday evening 8 Eastern/7 Central time slot. By the end of Season Three, Wally’s contract, under the guidance of Cascade Managed Artists with whom he signed even before the pilot was in the can, soared to three hundred thousand dollars per episode, plus residuals; and Lennie was written into eleven of thirteen shows annually—for which he was paid fifty thousand each, plus residuals. Further enticement was a quiet, unconsummated romance between Lennie (Justin Lassiter) and Lolo (Sadie Leroy, a general store proprietor,), which became a staple of events America began to anticipate in its TV-nurtured and growing state of voyeurism. CMA, representing them all, asked for and got twenty thousand for each show Lolo guested on. They wanted Betsy Rand as well—ostensibly Sadie’s daughter from a previous dalliance never explained (and an eventual love interest for Wally)—but her role on Lori’s Homeroom had her locked in until she graduated from high school in real (and pretend) life. By the time Lori’s Homeroom ran its course and she had collected her diploma from Columbia’s Talent School, Betsy had also collected two Emmys. But by then, her TV career for now virtually over; three movie scripts handed her by Trent DeBrine and MGM would occupy her the next four years—one of them, The Improbable Contenders, in which she played a World War II widow of thirty-three raising five children, would result in her first Oscar.

Ed McMahon sat on the sofa next to Wally’s easy chair, which was next to Carson’s desk. The upholstered furniture on the set looked, on camera, like a light tan, rich suede, but it was actually of a rough, uncomfortable, but durable mohair corduroy. Wally often said privately that if you sat there naked during a session with Carson, you’d go home with ridges and pressure-welts on your back and ass that would pass for military maps of the Seigfried Line. He wanted to use that on one of the shows, but McMahon advised against it. “Johnny’s very sensitive about the set,” he told Wally in the Green Room. “He bet NBC they couldn’t bring in what he wanted for under a hundred fifty grand, and if they couldn’t, he’d pay the difference. The last remodeling, with the murals and drapes and all, ran two hundred thousand, thanks to furniture he insisted on that was custom made by Formicola of Hollywood, and Johnny had to cough up about fifty grand. That sofa, chairs, and cocktail table were what put ‘em over budget.” Wally shrugged. “He can afford it.” McMahon laughed and said, “Just don’t remind him.”

That late afternoon of the seventeenth taped interview, Wally asked Carson if he remembered the time they had met in TWA’s Global Club in Chicago’s O’Hare.

“When was that?” Carson tried to recall.

“I was on my very first trip to Los Angeles—seems like six hundred years ago. I had spent a fortune on a Clipper ticket—”

“How’d you sneak into the Global Club?”

“I didn’t. I borrowed my boss’s membership card and put a studio sticker with my name across his name. It even had an NBC logo and all. The guy at the desk looked at it and figured I was somebody important.”

“I pay a thousand bucks a year for my wife and me, and you waltz in with a phony card, like you own the place!” Carson laughed and the studio audience joined right in. “Who was with me?”

“Well, I remember your wife, of course—”

McMahon jumped in: “That was probably Joanna,” and a dark cloud passed over Carson’s face.

“And,” Wally continued, “you were with Susanne Pleshette and her husband—gee, you know, I can’t remember his name—”

“Tim Gallagher.”

“Right.” Wally snapped his fingers.

Carson, seeing no humor in any of this, changed the subject. There were times mere mortals could distinguish between the mundane, the pedestrian, and the significant—especially where mirth and humor were concerned—and Carson was a master interpreter. If he or a guest began to wander down the path of humdrum, he had an instinctive ability to steer the conversation back on the main highway leading to smiles, convulsions, titters, chuckles, guffaws, belly-laughs, grins, chortles, cachinnation, and downright, side-splitting, gut-ripping, uncontrolled hilarity. Case in point, the time Ed Ames was demonstrating the fine art of tomahawk tossing. A six foot piece of plywood had been erected on the set, and the outline of a man, a cowboy, was roughly drawn with what appeared as nothing more than a black marker; it stood on the board about ten feet away from Carson and Ames. The young singer, a son of Russian Jewish immigrants, had all the cosmetic features of a Native American and was co-starring as such on a series called Daniel Boone. On this particular Tonight Show, he was instructing Carson on how to properly throw a tomahawk and impale a man who might be attacking him. Twice Carson tried, and twice his tomahawk bounced harmlessly off the plywood. To show the host what he was doing wrong, Ames took the weapon, drew back his arm, and with a mighty heavy, sent the tomahawk spinning end over end to where it became perfectly embedded—in the man’s crotch. With the handle pointing upward at a fifty-five degree angle, there was a stunned millisecond, a gasp of silence from the audience, which erupted into a spasm of laughter and cat-calls, guffaws and giggles that might be still going on somewhere in the world (a video made from a black and white kinescope of this incident had been circling the globe for years.) Ames, mortified, began to cross the stage to retrieve the tomahawk—perhaps seeing his dramatic career disappearing into the sunset as had his adopted ancestral lineage—and it was here that Carson reacted with his magical penchant for preserving humor. Without saying a word, he simply reached out and touched Ames’ arm, halting him, stopping him from approaching the plywood man. The producer/director (Fred de Cordova) knew exactly what Carson was doing. Let the picture say it all; let the hilarity continue ad infinitum; hold the shot until the moon came up. Had Ames hastened to remove the tomahawk, the moment would have been shattered. Carson, at the height of the chaos, ad libbed just one line, making perfect sense and catapulting the audience into another interminable episode of convulsive merriment: “I didn’t even know you were Jewish—welcome to Frontier Bris!”. . . . To this day, no one remembers if the cutout’s erection was ever stifled.

“Tell me about the day you screen-tested for the part of Freddie on Rusted Spurs,” Carson prompted, leading Wally into a neighborhood where he knew comedy lived.

Wally was never completely comfortable guesting on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson when the permanent host was on. He preferred Dick Cavette or Joey Bishop—even one of the distaff luminaries such as Joan Rivers, long before she was banned from the show. There was something about Carson’s almost sanctimonious manner that made him edgy. . . . He often admitted to Betsy or Lennie that he’d rather be interviewed by Bishop Fulton Sheen. “Let me tell you sumpthin,” Lennie would reply. “Johnny Carson ain’t no Bishop Sheen. He ain’t even no Joey Bishop.”

Remembering that chance meeting in TWA’s Global Club, Wally told Carson, “I thought the fellow with Suzanne Pleshette was her husband—which he was. I even called him ‘Mr. Pleshette’.” A titter ran through the audience, and Carson picked up on it. “Life’s a circle, isn’t it,” the host commented, without smiling. “Maybe that’s why they sometimes refer to you as Mister Betsy Rand.” The titter escalated to a chuckle, and Wally Emerson glared at Johnny Carson, a red tide rising under his collar. Carson, of course, was merely repeating what a few local columnists had already suggested: Wally’s obsession with Betsy had, over the years escalated to something more—at least for him—than a little sister/big brother relationship. His new house on the beach in Malibu was small yet ideal for a bachelor living alone, and Betsy had virtually spent every moment away from the TV and movie studios decorating and furnishing it with the enthusiasm and carte blanche of a new bride, her lack of décor and design notwithstanding. This did not go unnoticed by the celebrity pundits—or, for that matter, Lolo Rand McCarthur.

“Hells bells,” Lennie said, ‘if she was a couple years older, an’ he was ten years younger, there ain’t nuthin we could say about it.”

Lolo minced no words, “She’s almost nineteen, and he’s not yet thirty-three. There’s the same difference between them as there is between you and me.”

“Well, shoot . . . that’s different.”

Lolo waited no more than ten seconds before she said, “I want you to have a talk with her. With both of them. If you don’t, I will. I saw this coming years ago.”

Lennie looked around to see if there was a glass and a bottle of Jack Daniel’s close by. Saw what coming? “Oh-kay. Relax. I will.”

“When?”

“Sunday . . . for sure. He an’ his folks comin’ over for dinner?”

Lolo glanced at her husband over the tops of her reading glasses. “What do you think?”

His folks—his mother and father now lived in Southern California, in Encino, and it had been Betsy’s idea to bring them West during Rusted Spurs’ first season; Wally, for the life of him, couldn’t imagine why. His father, Nelson Emerson, was too young to retire, and his mother, Doris, was—well, his mother, a short zaftig that might have stepped from a Flemish painting.

“What’re they gonna do out here?” Wally wondered aloud. “They will never fit in with—anybody. My life style is, is . . .”

“Is what?”

“I don’t know.”

Betsy puckered her lips and nodded. “Your so called ‘life style’ has nothing to do with anything. You’re just afraid my parents—and me—won’t like them. And even if we don’t, so what? They’re your parents, and you’ve left them to freeze their butts off in Buffalo, while you come out here and make a zillion dollars on TV. You know what you should do? Buy them a nice house and fix them up with a grocery store franchise, and they’ll think they died and went to heaven. The least you can do is make the offer. They’ll probably say no, anyway.”

They didn’t. In fact, they said yes even before Wally mentioned the grocery store franchise. It wasn’t until they were settled in the neat mortgage-free cottage in Encino, less than ten miles from Bar Amateurs— (“Doan y’all be strangers!” Lennie commanded. “Hell, we’re damn near neighbors!”)—with its large living room and dining room, modern airy kitchen, two bedrooms and den—and the mandatory kidney-shaped swimming pool—not to mention the new Ford station wagon in the garage—that Nelson said, “Man, this is great! . . . . Now, whadda we gonna do?”

Wally was prepared. “How about a grocery store of your very own?”

“You kidding?” Nelson was appalled. “I just got out of a grocery store!”

“But you didn’t own it, not the same thing.”

“True. Whaddaya gonna get me—a A and P?”

“How about an Emerson?—fully stocked and ready to go!”

It was Wally’s baptism of fire, his first Big Time business deal, and he did his parents proud. Through NBC/Burbank, he contacted Commissaries International and purchased a franchise of a self-contained retail outlet designed as a turnkey operation in a neighborhood strip mall and ideally suited for a bedroom community like Encino. The result was a 28,000 square foot grocery store complete with meat, produce, dairy products, baked and canned goods, staples—just about everything one might expect from a neighborhood grocery store—including credit and free delivery. Wally footed all the start-up costs and negotiated a bi-annual skim for Commissaries International of less than one percent of the gross. “You mean I gotta pay them on top of everything else outta every dollar I take in?” Nelson was aghast. “Yep. And you can’t cheat ‘em, either. They catch you and out you go—your house and the station wagon—everything. And by the time I get outta jail, you’ll be back freezing your ass off in Buffalo. Hire Mom to run the office and do the books, and we got nothing to worry about.”

Lennie and Lolo thought it was a grand idea, and they were Emerson Market’s first customers. “Shoot,” Lennie beamed, “all we gotta do is tell Janice to call y’all up and order what she needs! Then when you deliver it, we’ll have a couple Jack Daniel’s to settle our nerves.” Nelson agreed. “Sounds like a plan to me.”

In toto, the entire deal, including the house, the station wagon, and the grocery store franchise cost Wally less than $1,250,000, which he financed at no interest (thanks to Morris Nussbaum) to pay off in three years, and Nelson said, “Not to worry. I intend to pay you back every single penny, once we get rollin’ and get our feet on the ground.” Wally laughed and Betsy giggled; Doris said, “Mark my words, your dad means it!” Secretly, Doris loved her only son more than anything in the world. Betsy later said to Wally, “You’re a better man than I, Gunga Din,” and that meant more to him than anything his parents could have said.

That Sunday, that fourth season of Rusted Spurs, Wally did not come for dinner, and the reason was, there was no Sunday dinner at Bar Amateurs that week—in fact, there wouldn’t be for some time to come. Rusted Spurs was a couple hours away from an episode “wrap” when Trent DeBrine hollered over his bullhorn, “Hold it down for a sec and gimme your attention.” The techs stopped moving lights and booms, the actors stopped talking among themselves, and when the set was relatively quiet, DeBrine said, “I know it’s Friday afternoon and everyone wants to get outta here, but I saw the ‘rushes’ last night, and the fight in the bar’s got to be re-shot. Looks like crap— especially you, Wally, your back’s to the camera on some crucial shots—my fault—we should have used Roger—and when you drop the heavy, you can see him start to fall even before he’s hit. So . . . if you guys don’t mind, we’re going back over to MGM and re-stage the brawl. If you do mind . . . tough—you’re going, anyway. There’s busses outside for those that don’t want to drive.”

Being a Friday and one scene away from finishing a complete episode, the cast and crew moaned and groaned and filed out of the NBC Burbank studios to the waiting busses. Wally was going to board the first luxury Land Cruiser, but Lennie pulled him aside and said, “Ride over with us. We can leave right from there an’ get home ‘fore rush hour.” Wally hesitated. “My car’s here. So’s Isabelle’s and Beverly’s.” Lennie said, “S’all right. Y’all come home with us for cocktails, an’ I’ll get Robert tuh drive y’all back here ‘fore gets too dark. Come on. Shoot, man, we got the whole weekend heada us.”

The three-bus caravan to Stage 37 at MGM took less than thirty-five minutes, and once inside Trent DeBrine went over the scene, outlining again how he wanted it played. While the cameras were being placed according to previous directions, he reviewed the action with his cast and A.D. “The whole purpose of this fight is to once again position Freddie Lassiter as the focal point, the catalyst if you will, you know, as the main force behind all the good things that happen to him and his old man. Lenny—you are in a showdown with Jock—Rowdy Snipes—and when you two tangle, when he throws that drink in your face, I want you two to slug it out just like you did Monday. In fact, I’m going to salvage a couple shots where you, Lennie, uncork a couple haymakers that would put a real bad guy in his grave. What I didn’t like, though, was the part where Jock pops you, and, you know, you fly across the table and land under the piano. I’d rather see you hit the table with your feet up in the air, then roll off on your side. At that point, Wally, I want you to come outta nowhere and jump on Jock’s back, like you want to frog-march him outta the place.. You, Jock, do just what you did before . . . flip Wally off like he was a gnat on your shoulder—then go for your Bowie knife in one hand and break a beer bottle in half with the other—and come for Wally like you’re going to slice him to ribbons. And you, Wally, do just what you did on Monday—even if I holler ‘cut!’ keep right on and we’ll splice in the best of it. Okay? Any questions? . . . We’ll shoot silent, so make all the racquet you want.” (The crew was well aware that DeBrine would never be accused of misprision, as he never shot anything silent, no matter what the scene; sounds, such as physical blows, grunts, crashing furniture and glass, gun shots with blanks, sporadic ad libbed dialogue, music and so on, would be dubbed in if and where needed during editing. As a director, he lived by the film editor’s equation: A great scene with phony sound is no scene at all.)

It was not a complicated barroom brawl, a standard cowboy movie scene Lennie had performed as a stuntman, a double, and an actor at least two hundred times in the past twenty-five years, and the worst he could recall coming away from it with was a dislocated thumb. Even so, he insisted that he and Jock Mahoney, playing the villainous Rowdy Snipes, rehearse it a time or two before DeBrine rolled film. “The only part I wanna get right,” he told Mahoney, a veteran stuntman himself, ‘is when you clobber me, an’ I roll offa that ol’ table. Up tuh then, less just kick the shit outta each other.” For the next half hour in rehearsal, the two men pummeled each other until Lennie, Jock, and DeBrine were satisfied the ending was perfect. He asked Lolo what she thought. “Looks good to me. You happy with the cards, whisky, and chips on the table?” He told her he was. “I like the way they go flyin’!” he said. “Jus’ like when you an’ me get inta it!” Lolo gave him a classic yeah, right look.

It was nearly five-thirty when DeBrine yelled “Action,” and the fight got underway. Both actors responded to the command like it was the opening bell of the Olympic heavyweights’ gold medal round. Although neither laid a hand on the other, the swinging, the grappling, the faux-fist contact, the falls, the get-ups, the sheer violence and insanity of it took on a life of its own. Toward the end, DeBrine and his A.D. leaned forward, totally immersed in the phony reality. “Jee-sus,” Cambridge muttered. “Yeah,” said DeBrine.

At that point, Mahoney unleashed a tremendous roundhouse that flew past Lennie’s jaw by scant centimeters, and Lennie sprung backwards off his feet and plummeted in the direction of the nearby poker table. But there was a miscalculation. With his back to the table, Lennie flew off to his right and landed on his seat in one of the breakaway chairs beside the table; being nothing more than balsam wood, the chair shattered and impeded not an ounce of Lennie’s 260 pounds from striking the floor on the base of his spine. As he lay motionless, Wally sprang into action from off-camera and jumped on Mahoney’s back. The bad guy shrugged him off, sending Wally across the room and ricocheting off the bar. Wally, now fully morphed into Freddie Lassiter, clamored slowly to his feet, while Mahoney whipped out his hard rubber Bowie knife and simultaneously broke a prop beer bottle, holding ‘lethal weapons’ in each hand. A snarl on his lips, he mouthed the line later dubbed in: “These Lassiters ain’t never gonna make no fool o’ Rowdy Snipes ever again!” and advanced while viciously twirling the huge knife and thrusting the jagged edges of the beer bottle in a threatening manner—whereupon Wally fumbled his revolver out of its holster and fired one shot, hitting Snipes in the center of his chest. Mahoney, stunned and startled, looked down at the cranberry juice and tomato ketchup spurting from the device beneath his shirt, looked up at Wally with a classic “Oh, shit!” grin, then pitched forward, dead as a cockroach squashed under a hobnail boot. “Cut!” Trent DeBrine cried.

“You can get up now,” Lolo said from the shadows outside the scene.

15

He had been unconscious for less than thirty seconds, but at first the faces above him were unfamiliar. Lights overhead, the Kliegs especially, formed halos over the heads of most who peered down at him from a semi-circle, and he momentarily thought he was dead and waking up in Heaven, which to his immediate consciousness, seemed unlikely. When the people looking down at him moved, however, their halos disappeared, then re-appeared—and then disappeared again. Was this some sort of celestial grading system? Good, then bad; good again to enjoy a short-lived reward—whoops! Bad again!

“Lennie—can you hear me?”. . . . Unmistakably Lolo. . . . “Lennie! Wake up!”

He started to say something, but what he wanted to say got lost somewhere in a different thought, and what came out was, “Goddamn it, I can’t git up—what happened to my legs? . . . Fuck. Can’t feel nuthin!”

Someone said, “Let’s get’m up inna chair.” Someone else said, “Better not move’m til the amb’lance comes.” Lolo asked, “Where you hurt, Lennie?” to which he replied, “Shoot, I dunno. Can’t feel nuthin. Nuthin works. G’damn it.” Trent DeBrine leaned over and held up three fingers. “How many fingers I got?” Lennie said, “Ten.” Someone laughed. “He’s okay. Just got the wind knocked outta him.” Wally, down on one knee, said, “Stay right where you are. The parameds’ll be here any second.” Lennie wasn’t sure but he thought he nodded. “You kill that sumabitch Rowdy Snipes?” Jock Mahoney leaned in, dripping cranberry juice and tomato ketchup; but it was Wally who nodded. “Shot him dead in the heart.” Lennie glanced over at Lolo. “Fuck’m,” he whispered.

Eschewing the MGM clinic and its nurse practioners, the paramedics directed in the ambulance to Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Beverly Hills; Lolo rode with Lennie in the hastily summoned emergency vehicle, while Wally called Betsy Rand in her trailer in Burbank. Lori’s Homeroom had finished its season wrap on Wednesday, but some of the principals were in post-production with voice-overs and close-ups all day Friday. Betsy answered the phone herself.

“How bad is it?” she asked.

“I think he’s gonna be alright—probably just got a hip stinger. He fell on his butt during the fight scene, and he’s lost his, you know, he’s all numb from the hips down and can’t feel a thing. Sounds like a hip stinger. They took him to Cedars–Sinai to make sure, uh, for, you know, observation.”

“Where’s my mom?”

“She went with’m. . . . Look, my car is over there in Burbank, behind the Spurs set. Can you bring it over here and pick me up? The keys’re behind the sun visor.”

“What about Isabelle and Beverly?”

“They’re going to ride with DeBrine and Jock Mahoney.”

“Who’s he? Who’s Mahoney?”

“The guy Lennie was fighting with—plays Rowdy Snipes. You know him. He’s Sally Field’s old man.”

“Oh. Yeah. . . . I’ll be there in a few minutes,” Betsy said, her voice starting to shake a little. “I—I’m really all done here, anyway. Meet me out front. . . . Christ, I don’t even know where Cedars–Sinai is!”

The Emergency Room at Cedars-Sinai was unlike most found in hospitals in major cities. There were three sections—three separate enclaves outside the glass-partitioned trauma center that served three distinct purposes. One was foremost near the sliding doors at the entrance, and that was for “the infantry of noodle-knockers,” as Don Rickles called them—office workers, construction people, police and firemen, tourists, clerks, sales people, airline employees, teachers, students, white collar workers below vice presidents, pullulating blue collar workers in any capacity, plus the children and wives of them all—the vast army of insignificant unfortunates who fell victim to bad food, bad viruses, bad karma, bad aim, bad appendixes, strep throats, premature labor pains, and sudden but unsuccessful desires to shuffle off this mortal coil. Another waiting room was off to the right; this was for corporate entities that needed to avoid, at all costs, contact with the media (it was normally the least congested area.) The third was a luxurious lobby, a splendid refuge of supple and tufted leather sofas and massive chairs, chrome and beveled glass tables and Tiffany lamps, a place for the families and loved ones of actors, actresses, writers, directors/producers, studio moguls et al, whose very lives depended more on anonymity than medical acumen—not that either was in short supply at Cedars-Sinai. . . . It was in this latter place that Dr. Carp Alfvén met with Lennie’s family, friends, and co-workers.

Carp (short for Carpenter) Alfvén did not look like a doctor, much less a world-class neurosurgeon. He was extremely short (Wally wondered if he, like Alan Ladd, stood on lettuce boxes for big scenes in the OR.) Alfvén was dressed in scrub pants and a shirt and tie; a surgical mask hung loosely about his neck, and a stethoscope, for effect, curled around his narrow shoulders. His shoes were Nikes. He was under fifty, and the paisley surgical cap on his head was merely a small yarmulke that did little to hide an expanding bald spot amidst his remaining blond-grayish ringlets. A Swede, born in Michigan of Nordic parents, Alfvén graduated from the University of Georgia and attended medical schools at the universities of Tennessee and Michigan, interned at Johns Hopkins, was board certified in neurological surgery at Emory University, and had headed the Neurological Department at the Mayo Clinic for several years. Along the way he married Inger Thorvaldsen, a nurse at Johns Hopkins, who suffered from cinematic ambitions, and while populating the United States with seven more babies, wound up in Beverly Hills where she juggled a moderately successful modeling career while raising a bevy of youngsters from eleven to twenty-three. Imminently qualified (and delighted) to be in the hospital when Lennie McCarthur’s gurney was wheeled in, Dr. Alfvén solemnly met with the family at about seven-thirty in the segregated “celebrity” waiting room.

“First off,” he said initially, after introductions were made all around—Lolo, Betsy, Wally, Trent DeBrine, Jock Mahoney, Isabelle, Beverly, and Robert, the driver, who had been called by Beverly to bring an additional car (the Bentley) in case McCarthur was to be sent home, “I don’t think, at this point, it’s as, uh, serious, really, as it looks . . . ”

“A hip stinger—” Wally started.

“Well—uh—yes, that is, no—not what I’d call a ‘hip stinger’. Mr. McCarthur took one doozy of a spill, and from what I can see, he landed smack-dab on his keester—that is to say, on his sacrum coccyx—uh, the holy bone, his, uh, tail-bone, which, according to the x-rays, he broke—pretty badly. In fact, he broke it, uh, all four vertebrates down there, right off.” As an after-thought, he added, “No wonder he can’t feel anything.”

The group looked at Dr. Alfvén, then looked at the floor, and nothing more was said until Betsy Rand asked, “So . . .? What now? Is he going to be all right?”

Dr. Alfvén pursed his lips and nodded his head, as if his answer would be not only in the affirmative, it would be prophetic. “I think so.” Trent DeBrine jumped in: “Jock didn’t actually hit him, did he?” Mahoney didn’t wait: “I never even came close. Look at the film.” Lolo said, “Nobody did anything! He missed the table, that’s all. He’s too old for this.” Betsy placed her hand on Lolo’s arm: “Momma . . .” Wally said, “So what’s next?”

“Next, I think we’ll admit him—and schedule him for surgery.”

“Aw, Jesus . . .”

“Surgery!”

“I knew it. He’ll never walk again.”

“Will he ever walk again?”

“Probably. I think so. You never know with these things. It’s a, uh, a spinal thing.”

“When will you operate?”

“Soon as possible.”

“I never even came close to hitting him!”

“I know. It’s not your fault.”

“Jesus!”

“When can we see him?”

“Shoot,” Lennie groaned, that same evening at ten-fifteen, “I tol’ Trent DeBrine an’ that whole gang from NBC, I’d bust my ass for’um!”

His room—517 Cedars-Sinai—was one floor below the neurological surgery suites and itself larger than the bedroom in a Century Plaza Hotel suite. It was a bland, quasi-sterile but luxurious setting, reserved for movie/TV VIP’s who happened to succumb to the vagaries of harm’s way, be it physical, mental, or imaginary and acquired by happenstance, bad luck, or self-rendered. Against one wall, to the left of a broad picture window revealing downtown Los Angeles in the distance, was the typical hospital bed—typical at first glance, but soon revealing its wider, more queen-like dimensions. Overhead was a swivel light seen usually in operating rooms, and at each side was a nightstand with functional chrome lamps—in fact, all the lamps in the room were ornamental chrome, with stained glass, incongruous shades that would, alongside the deep brown/red sofa and armchairs, been more apropos to a high-end antique shop in the Garden District of New Orleans. Even the half-dozen occasional chairs, bureau, and TV-sheltering armoire were too eclectic to be utilitarian in a medical sense. Not that there wasn’t abundant evidence of medical proficiency: plugged into a control panel above and beside the bed was the latest scientific apparatus to monitor the patient’s vital signs from heart rate to blood pressure to body temperature; there were also the usual mysterious boxes with LED screens containing oscillators, wall-plugs for oxygen pumps, and ready defibrillation devices connected to a flat line indicator that would, under dire circumstances, emit the piecing, funereal tone of G sharp minor. Attached to the moveable fence disguised as bed rails was the remote that signaled for a nurse, raised and lowered the bed itself, and changed the TV channels. Lennie lie in the center of the bed, his upper body in a sitting position, his hips elevated by an inflatable doughnut slightly smaller than a truck tire, and his legs spread beneath a brilliant white sheet and cover. The base of his spine hovered inches above the mattress, and he exerted no weight whatsoever on his damaged sacrum.

Betsy, Lolo, and Wally sat on occasional chairs by the bed. Trent DeBrine was on the sofa, Isabelle and Beverly were in nearby armchairs; Jock Mahoney had left after Lennie had been admitted and after asserting one more time that he had never laid a hand on him. Robert was still downstairs in the ER waiting room; Dr. Alfvén had gone home to his beautiful wife but said he would call in later.

“So,” Lennie said, “how much’s is this whorehouse costin’ me?”

No one answered immediately, and then DeBrine said, “Nothing. Your SAG Regal covers it all.”

“What about the sawbones an’ his turkey carvers?”

“What the SAG policy doesn’t cover, NBC does. Least of your worries.”

“Yeah. What’s the most?”

Lolo asked, “How you feeling, honey?”

Lennie shrugged with his shoulders. “Nuthin. Doan feel nuthin. Can’t even move nunna my piggies.”

Wally didn’t say it, but he was glad Rusted Spurs was dark, done for the season. They were off now until the second week in August; as far as he knew, there wasn’t one script written, much less approved, for the fall season. Depending on Lennie, the character of Justin Lassiter could go either way; while anxiously milling about the hospital waiting room earlier, Trent DeBrine casually suggested maybe they should re-shoot today’s final scenes and have Mahoney finish Lennie off before Wally finishes off Mahoney. Neither Lolo nor Betsy said anything—their glare was loud enough—but Wally looked at Trent and silently mouthed: Go fuck yourself.

Dr. Alfvén called room 517 at ten-thirty, but he had no report to make other than he’d booked a surgical suite for seven the next morning. “I think you all should go home,” he advised, “and get a good night’s sleep. And Mr. McCarthur, too—not, uh, go home, but get some sleep.” Lolo wanted to know what time they should be there in the morning. “Oh, not too early—come by about ten or so. He’ll be in recovery, and you probably can’t see him till then, anyway.” Lolo thought maybe they should come earlier, be there before the operation. “Well, you can, uh, of course, but there really isn’t much need. They’ll start prepping him about five or so, and they’ll give him a sedative—he’ll be pretty much out of it before, uh, I even get there. Really, Mrs. McCarthur, these coccygectomies are pretty routine, uh, cut and dry . . . Not the cut part, so much, uh, you know.” He chuckled self-consciously at his own feeble humor. “Once we try and put the coccyx pieces back together, even with mechanical parts, I’ll probably do a lamenectomy and scrape off as much calcium as I can from his lower discs, I mean, since he’s a little over fifty, been falling off horses, and things all his life—you, uh, I’ll tell you as much as I can in detail after the operation. It’s really a very simple procedure.” Lolo nodded and asked, “How soon will we know—you know—if he can walk?” There was a long silence at Dr. Alfvén’s end. “We’ll, uh, cross that bridge when we come to it . . . ’

Betsy Rand did not go right back to the ranch with her mother, who, with Robert, offered to drive Trent DeBrine back to his car at MGM. She left with Wally and slipped behind the wheel of his car—“I want to drive”—and headed west toward the ocean. It was an extraordinarily beautiful California night; a canopy of stars overhead trapped a low humidity-cool breeze coming down from the Susana Mountains and washing clean every intake of breath. The tantalizing aroma of hibiscus and camellias surrounded them before they climbed into Wally’s car, and Betsy said she wished he had gotten a convertible rather than a hardtop. “It comes with both,” he reminded her, and she changed her wish: “Why didn’t you switch to the soft top?” He didn’t know, and he didn’t think it made much difference. “Do you want to go someplace for a drink?” She shook her head and said, “Maybe. If there’s a place, we can stop.”

She drove aimlessly with little or no conversation. They followed a nearly straight line west out of Beverly Hills on the Santa Monica Freeway, all the way to the coast. Turning left on Route 1, she headed due west into Malibu, eventually cutting onto the shunpike that led to the beach. “We going to my place?” Wally wondered. “No,” Betsy said, and her voice was lower than the wind around the car. “Yes, come to think of it—why not? We can put the soft top on the car. And leave it down.”

Wally’s house in Malibu was actually outside the city limits, just beyond several outlandishly luxurious homes owned by stars of universal renown: Kirk Douglas, Bogart and Bacall, and Esther Williams and Ricardo Maltoban. Wally’s bachelor house, a California redwood structure that from a distance resembled a crimson stack of incongruous playing cards, flaunted outdoor decks and staircases that seemed randomly placed with no sensible plan, and boasted an entire three-story front window facing the Pacific Ocean—a front comprised of gleaming glass that was specially treated not to glare when enjoying the evening with all the lights on and the sun not yet gone, affording the most stupendous view possible of the beach and the sea. Entering through the two-car garage in the back, or a formal oak door adjacent to it, the first floor was an elongated kitchen running into the living room/dining room/powder room, and divided by four strategically placed columns. Up either a free-standing staircase inside, or a circular set of steps leading from the first to second decks, was a media room/den—a huge square enclosure with the spartan furniture Betsy had selected for him, a large TV and battery of stereo equipment, a stationary bicycle and Nordic Stair, and sliding doors that opened upon another deck with another spiral staircase augmenting another interior free-standing set of stairs that led to the bedroom and bathroom. These two rooms, equal in floor space to the rooms below, displayed furnishings and configurations very similar to what Wally had admired in the Deadwood Suite at Bar Amateurs, again chosen primarily by Betsy Rand. The view from the deck outside the bedroom was, however, more spectacular, with the widest part of the beach spread right and left for nearly five hundred yards in each direction, leading up to an ocean that did not disappear until it flirted with the horizon. The top floor view was a major selling point when Wally bought the property from Chester Morris’ family, after the Boston Blackie star abandoned Hollywood for stage touring companies. When Betsy first saw the place with Wally, with the real estate lady in tow, she said nothing. But she thought this place is an architect’s nightmare!

Tonight, Betsy dropped down the short driveway from the main highway and pulled into the garage. “You put the soft top on. Up. Make it so it’s down—whatever you do. I’ll make us a drink.”

“The convertible top is already in the back, in front o’ the trunk” Wally said. “I just gotta take off the hardtop. Eight wing-nuts. Piece a cake.”

Inside, Betsy found a bottle of vodka, two squat glasses, and an opened, uncapped half-quart of flat tonic water. There was a chunk of dried up lemon in the Fridge. She dropped the lemon down the disposal, flushed the tonic water after it, and splashed vodka into the glasses over ice. “Come and get it,” she said, cryptically, in a voice that couldn’t have been heard if Wally had been standing next to her.

The hardtop removed and stored in the rafters above the garage, Wally came inside. Betsy, by now, was sitting in the living room, sipping her drink, and staring out the glass wall at the ocean. “Your drink’s on the counter,” she said.

“Car’s all set.”

“I don’t care. . . . My dad’s never going to walk again.” She started to cry, silently but with tears on her cheek. She took a large gulp of vodka. Wally retrieved his own drink from the kitchen counter, came into the living room, and sat beside her, on the arm of the sofa, straddling it as if on horseback. “Lennie’s going to be okay,” he said, placing his hand on her shoulder. “He’s tough as nails. Just wait and see.” Clichés, clichés! A dead memory of Genevieve Rachmann invaded his brain momentarily, then vanished.

Betsy looked up at him and swiped the back of her hand across her right eye, leaving a dark streak where faint mascara had been. “Yeah, sure, doctor. I’m glad you’re on the case. . . . Wake up—he’s fifty-three years old, that’s what he says, but it’s plain bullshit, what the bios say, but dammit, he’s closer to sixty than he is fifty. He’s been out there getting beat up, shot up, and falling off balconies and horses, out of cars and off trains since he was a kid—he’s got more scars and broken bones than any stunt-double out here. God, you should see him in a bathing suit! He looks worse than—an earthquake. . . . What the hell is he going to do if he can’t walk again, if he gets stuck in a goddamn wheelchair the rest of his life? What if he can’t get up on a horse—let alone fall offa one!”

“Lionel Barrymore—” Wally started.

“Jesus.”

“No, I’m serious. Just stop and think about Lionel Barrymore . . .”

“Wally . . . ”

“No, listen. Remember in Duel in the Sun, when they had Barrymore up on horseback?”

“Wally . . .”

“No—you know how they did that? They rigged a hoist and lifted him up, right outta his wheelchair and all, strapped him right to the saddle on the horse’s bank, and covered him up down to his ankles with a big blanket and his greatcoat. Nobody ever knew the difference. It was great!”

Betsy sipped her drink and handed the glass to Wally. “Can you fix me another? . . .You really think my dad would let them do that to him? He would rather shoot the goddamn horse than embarrass him like that.”

“Betsy . . . Lennie’s going to be okay.”

“Sure. . . . Fix me a drink, please, will you?”

“You wanna go for a drive?”

“No. I want to drink for a while. Then I want to go to bed.”

Wally wasn’t sure he’d heard her correctly, and if he was wrong, he didn’t want to pursue it in case he had misunderstood her. In the kitchen, alone, fixing fresh drinks—his mind raced. Go to bed? With me? Here? Now? Betsy, he was certain—at least, as far as he was concerned—was a virgin . . . as far as he was concerned? God, almighty! Her father was in the hospital, flat and numb as a deflated balloon, being operated on at sunrise (the condemned man was scheduled to be knifed at sunrise!) he’d probably ride horseback in a wheelchair the rest of his life—don’t even think it!— and you’re drinking with his teenage daughter, getting her drunk so you can bed her down for the night and de-flower her chastity. . . .What am I saying? What kind of language is that? De-flower. De-fuck. De-fornicate. Clichés! Clichés! Clichés! . . . . Lennie McCarthur, the guy who made it possible for you to be here in the first place—screwing his daughter because she’s upset and distraught—the one woman in your life you ever really cared about, except maybe your mother, but that was different, damn it, Betsy is no more like my mother than I am like, uh, Clint Walker—or somebody! Oh, holy shit!—just how rotten am I? De-flower her chastity! Christ save me! . . .

He carried the fresh vodkas into the living room and handed Betsy hers. She took it quickly, gulped it enthusiastically, and placed the glass on the end table.

“Betsy . . .’

“For chrissake,” she said, without looking at him, “I’m nineteen years old, I work in Hollywood, I’m an actress who’s won an Emmy on one of the dumbest TV shows ever made, I’ve had two hot movies everybody is gah-gah over . . . and I’ve got a boyfriend old enough to be my father—and he’s on the second dumbest TV show ever made . . . and all I’ve ever been is un-literally fucked by—everybody!—my agents, three producers, and four directors. My old man is dying at Cedars-Sinai. And I’m seriously considering going to bed with my ancient boyfriend. . . . Boy, am I a mess?— Or what!”

Betsy dropped her head and stared into her drink, immediately regretting the crack about having a boyfriend old enough to be her father. She was nineteen—and Wally was thirty-three—and there was no way he could be her father, she realized that, even if he’d jumped on Lolo’s bones when he was thirteen, which meant the best part of her would have run down her mother’s leg—God, she hated that expression!—something some crude actor-classmate had said at Columbia Talent School, and even thinking it was disgusting. Tonight, like last night, like hundreds of nights before that, she reckoned, was as ridiculous as even thinking about letting him seduce her when he’d first come to Hollywood—what was it? Lord, nearly five years ago! Five years! Half a decade! One-twentieth of a goddamn century! . . .Betsy had a tough time with this. She had had plenty of opportunities, from the very beginning, a full program of possibilities from James Dean to Jesse Damoneau, from Cameron Livingstone to Will Hutchins, and a score who wanted to score before that. But . . . from the moment she first met Wally Emerson, that first night at Bar Amateurs, she knew—dammit, yes, I knew—he was in love with her. He adored her. Wanted her. She knew he didn’t care if he got the part in Rusted Spurs, or any other part, for that matter—all he wanted was to be near her, with her, in the McCarthur inner circle, in the empyreal Hollywood of her present and future. All the rest was bubble bath. She knew as well as he that he had been dead serious when he told Morris Nussbaum he wouldn’t take the Freddie Lassiter role if Lennie weren’t on board as his father. It was no ploy to blackmail NBC into signing Lennie; it was his hole card that gave him a Straight Flush to Betsy’s Queen of Hearts, unalterably into her life, and at the time she merely suspected it—even though she knew it as certainly as she knew her own name. And now, after five years, he still worshipped—God, I can’t say it!—at her feet, because he was as smitten with her as she with him. Only her approach was different: she was nineteen; he was thirty-three, married and divorced, or annulled—whatever—and she inaccurately suspected he was probably screwing half the starlets in Hollywood—certainly the wild-eyed, honeydew, moist-panty ones who paraded in and out of Rusted Spurs week in and week out. And what about Isabelle and Beverly Follett? Where’d they come from, for God’s sake? A couple of big-titted hookers—that’s what they were!—which one was he fucking—which one?—both, singly or both at the same time? And waiting, biding his time, just hanging in there for the right moment—when he could nail me! Well, buster, you’ve played your cards right. You’ve drawn the brass ring—caught the Dead Man’s Hand when you weren’t even looking! Tonight’s the night! My father may be dead tomorrow, and my life will be over, anyway—but tonight’s the night!

Betsy reached for the telephone on the end table beside her. “I’ve got to call my mother.”

“She’ll be asleep by now.”

“No, she won’t. She’ll be at the hospital by six in the morning. You don’t know Lolo. She’ll be awake all night.”

“It’s ten after twelve now.”

“Shhhh.” She dialed, and Lolo picked up on the first ring. “Mom?”

“Betsy—that you? Is he dead? Where are you?”

“I’m at Wally’s. Daddy’s going to be all right.”

“How do you know that? Did you talk with the doctor? Why are you at Wally’s?”

“We came here to change tops on the car. We had a few drinks. I’m going to stay here tonight. We’re going to . . . go to bed . . . upstairs.”

“ . . . oh . . .”

“And I didn’t talk with the doctor. He would call you if anything were wrong. There isn’t, Mom, trust me—stop worrying, get some sleep. Don’t go to Cedars too early. I’ll meet you there. We both will.”

“Do you have your car? Are you all right? You sound like you’ve been drinking. Is your car there?”

“No, it’s still in Burbank. We’ll get it tomorrow. Stop worrying.”

“Oh . . . .Is there room for you at Wally’s. Has he called his mother and father?”

By the time he had closed the garage door and turned off the lights on the lower level, they had had two more vodkas/rocks, and Betsy said she would race him to the bedroom—last one upstairs sleeps farthest from the bathroom!—but the rules were that Wally had to use the deck-to-deck exterior stairs, while she could climb the shorter inside route. He beat her anyway, and they arrived beside the bed laughing nervously, standing close but not touching, saying nothing—just breathing heavily. “We’re in terrible shape,” she said, each word punctuated by a staccato breath. “I’m surprised you even made it—at your age.” Wally knew she was right; secretly he agreed with her. Five years of the good life starring on Rusted Spurs had taken a toll, and he was becoming aware of it. He hadn’t gained weight, but he felt soft and somewhat lethargic at times. The role of Freddie Lassiter was rarely, if ever, strenuous, unless learning pages of mindless dialogue was considered strenuous. Actually, the past eighteen months’ stardom had reached a new zenith of complacency as ninety percent of all interiors were scripted on cue cards, even some of the outdoors ones when the use of a single camera was called for, and neither Wally nor Lennie, nor even Lolo, had to commit to memory more than an opening line and ‘cue phrases’ for most scenes. Thanks to Trent DeBrine’s unusual directing techniques, physical effort was reduced to a minimum; Wally relied exclusively on stuntmen for most action—and a double for lighting and camera rehearsals and blocking stand-ins. More often than not, Wally would have Roger Naylor stand-in whenever a close-up of another actor was called for, or if Freddie’s back was to the camera. Naylor was a year or two older than Wally, but their physical persona was remarkably similar. Fortunately, Naylor’s girlish voice would keep him employed as a double for as long as DeBrine needed him, but it didn’t seem to matter to Roger, so long as the studios hired him to do something. Still young enough, his ambition genes were unlike Lennie McCarthur’s, who was never satisfied being simply a double or stuntman. “Roger is a much better actor than you,” Betsy often jibed, to Wally, “you could call in sick, and Trent would never know the difference.” Lennie, who seldom needed a stand-in for his role of Freddie’s father, would laugh at that and say, “Neither would the audience. People that watch TV wouldn’t know it if Mickey Mouse stood in for Robert Young!” Wally agreed. “And if Thumper doubled for Betsy on Lori’s Homeroom.” Lolo would get the last word: “Be an improvement, all ‘round.”

In the bedroom of his Malibu house, Wally, looking at Betsy in the constricted light from the table lamp on the nightstand, removed his shirt. “Is this really happening?”

She began playing with the zipper on the side of her skirt. “Bout time, isn’t it?” When she had shed the last of her clothes, she climbed up and knelt on the bed, staring at him as he undressed. He, too, knelt on top the bed; he took her face between his hands and leaned forward. She suddenly, smiling, remembered the curtain line Deborah Kerr had uttered to John Kerr: “Years from now when you talk about this—and you will—be kind.”

It was possible Wally had never seen Tea and Sympathy, and if he had, it didn’t matter; all he heard was his own blood rushing through his body. He was in a state of ineffable joy, more intent on kissing her, pressing against her, devouring her.

16

Wide ribbons of a satiny off-white blinked and twinkled in the late afternoon sun; they were formed into bows that resembled long stem carnations; the stems were two long appendages that flowed from each bow and nearly touched the ground. There was a multitude of them—they were everywhere. Someone from the church’s Altar Guild had placed them on railings and door handles with twist-ties. Others were on the lower trunks of the seven pinnate palms that graced the yard; some peeked from the well trimmed hedges that wound across the front yard, and there were several on the wrought-iron supports for the roses and ivy that clung to the church walls. A bow was attached to each courtesy light that lined both sides of the walk, from the massive, rough-hewn front door all the way to the parking lot. The courtesy lights, eighteen inches tall and formed like miter hats suspended from galvanized shepherds’ crooks, were spaced every two and a half feet along the sidewalk; they were turned on, even though it was hours before dusk, and what little glow there was added a mysterious iridescence to the bows of ribbon that adorned the edifice. The outside of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Culver City had never looked so good—nor, for that matter, had the interior.

Inside, the sanctuary was a golden kaleidoscope reflecting soft sunshine slanting and refracted through eight stained-glass windows on the southwest wall. The gleaming vinyl floor was a piebald patchwork of huge squares, and the pews and altar were made of rich Canadian pine and New Hampshire oak. At the edge of each pew along the center aisle, from the back of the sanctuary to the altar, was a white bow similar to the ones outside—it was down this center aisle that Lennie McCarthur would, before the sun was gone, escort his daughter, Elizabeth Rand McCarthur, to be given in marriage to Lewis Wallace Emerson. The altar was an explosion of alstroemeria, deep red roses, and miniature calla lilies, a profusion of reds, whites, and hydrangea sprayed pale green, placed with random but discreet and loving care.

‘Escort’ her down the aisle was more appropriate than ‘walk’ her down, though the outcome would be the same. The plan, this glorious California day in April, was to have Jock Mahoney push Lennie’s wheelchair down the aisle as her father clung tightly the bride’s hand. The wheelchair, a state-of-the-art electronic marvel that Lennie could have easily controlled with a joystick in his right hand, would have been maneuvered effortlessly, but Lolo felt Mahoney, still nursing a nagging wound of guilt, needed a role—and what better tribute could he have offered than to permit Lennie to hold his daughter’s hand without mechanical distraction while rolling down the church’s center aisle?

Jock’s adopted daughter, Sally Field, was Betsy’s maid of honor. “Why don’t you ask Katharine Hepburn?” Wally asked. “Yeah, right. I was going to, but then I realized I’d never met the lady. I’m sure she’d’ve jumped up and down with delight! ‘Betsy who?’” Betsy, like most Hollywood children destined for stardom, had few close friends—Sally Field actually was more colleague than friend, but they had developed an insouciant relationship during their Columbia Talent School days, sisterly but competitive. Sally, herself, had starred in a diversion of teenage fluff called Gidget, and then another even more successful but ludicrously adolescent series called, of all things, The Flying Nun—both epics Betsy had auditioned for but, fortunately, had been passed over. Ironically, the wedding was to be presided over by Reverend Nancy Clifford, an Episcopal technical advisor on The Flying Nun, an odd choice for the show, hired to assist two other clergy who were Roman Catholic priests. Sally, with a shrug, said, “Go figure—it’s Hollywood,” and she, Sally, would go on to make as many, if not more, movies than Betsy, and she would win two Oscars and three Emmys over the next few years.

Wally’s best man was Terry Powell. He would have preferred Lennie, but Lolo said that would not have been appropriate (or possible) under the circumstances. He thought of Trent DeBrine, but, as Lolo again advised, simple studio protocol said no, such favoritism would be regarded as flagrant ass kissing. For groomsmen, he chose Brian Donlevy, Edmund O’Brien, Roger Naylor, and Morris Nussbaum, each of whom was delighted to participate. Betsy’s bridesmaids were Abby Powell, and Isabelle and Beverly Follet—the latter two apologetically disappeared after the reception with Trent DeBrine’s A.D. and Jesse Damoneau, a young actor who often appeared as Freddie Lassiter’s sidekick on Rusted Spurs. Betsy also considered asking Natalie Wood, but the Warner’s contract player was somewhat older and strongly involved in serious studio marketing ploys that would have required invitations to Tab Hunter, Nick Adams, James Dean, Dennis Hooper, Robert Wagner, and even Raymond Burr. Wally insisted, however, they send an invitation to Genevieve Rachmann in care of Playboy Enterprises, but there was no response. Dick Butterworth, his old boss at WNGD, declined his invitation but did send a set of four Irish coffee mugs.

It was a small wedding by Hollywood standards—only two hundred guests at both the ceremony and the reception, a gala affair held in St. Mark’s Parish Hall, a beautifully appointed chamber, huge and airy, and adorned with multi-colored Japanese lanterns overhead, looking down on tables and chairs covered in linens of green and black satin. Flowers were everywhere, complementing and often exceeding the arrangements in the sanctuary—even amidst the seven-piece orchestra presiding over the dance floor.

“What the hell kinda party that gonna be, havin’ the damn reception in the church!” Lennie wanted to know. “Ain’t gonna get nuthin to drink there but watered-down communion wine!”

“Not so,” Lolo corrected. “The Parish Hall, though technically part of the church, is used for receptions a lot, honey—that’s why they even installed a dance floor—and anyway, I spoke with Reverend Chippendale, and he assured us there’ll be an open bar for wine and beer, plus a private bar in the kitchen for anyone feeling the need for something, uh, more aggressive.”

Lennie was not convinced. “Shoot, Chippendale’s nuthin but a g’damn deacon—what’s he got to say ‘bout anythin’?”

Lolo explained that a deacon was numero duo to the pastor himself. “And Reverend Shirley’s gone on vacation that week—he won’t even be here, for God’s sake. And Reverend Clifford herself loves a good stiff one as well as the next . . . fella.”

“Fella . . . yeah . . . right.” Lennie’s chin dropped as he scrunched further down in his wheelchair. “A lady priest’s bad nuff—you trust that guy Chippendale? Jus’ a deacon’s all he is! Bet he doan know Jack Daniel’s from Jacks’r Better. Damn Episcopalians.”

It was three months after Lennie had returned to Bar Amateurs from six weeks and three operations at Cedars-Sinai that Betsy and Wally announced their engagement and wedding plans one Wednesday evening at dinner. The Follett twins were present, as were Terry and Abby Powell, and Trent DeBrine and his date, a twenty-year old starlet named DeeDee Botelho from Akron, Ohio, who, unbelievably, claimed never to have heard of Wally Emerson or Betsy Rand. Doris and Nelson Emerson, Wally’s parents, were there from Encino, both forever mesmerized by Wally’s immersion into the ‘Hollywood’ scene.

“Shoot,” Lennie laughed nervously, raising his glass to Betsy and Wally, “purty damn good at keepin’ secrets! I didn’t think you two even liked each other!”

“Well, we don’t,” agreed Betsy. “We loathe each other—but we’re madly in love. I adore this silly man, old and unattractive as he is—and untalented, to boot—but we can’t live without each other. We are going to be married April twenty-one—a year from now. So there. Like it or lump it.”

Everyone looked at Wally. “She’s right,” he said, wishing he didn’t have to say anything. “Betsy’s right. As usual. . . . From the very beginning—when I first got here—I knew she was, uh, the one woman for me. . . . I know what you’re all thinking—yeah, yeah, she’s just a kid, and I’m robbin’ the cradle, like what everyone’s going to say—I can hear it now, what the Heddas and Louellas and Fidlers will say—but we know better, don’t we, babe? . . . I knew five years ago when she was just fourteen, and I was, uh, well, in like my late twenties, sure, there was a difference in our ages, like thirteen, fourteen years—‘bout the same as when you and Lolo were married, right, Lennie? . . .”

“Still the same difference today,” Lolo said. “More like fifteen years.”

“Shoot,” Lennie shot at Lolo, “that much? I thought you was a lot older’n that, Lo!”

Terry Powell commented later to Abby that Lennie’s sense of humor had not collapsed along with his mobility. And it was true. After the second operation produced no evidence that he would eventually regain the use of his legs, Lennie’s spirits did not succumb to the ennui and hebetude of life in a wheelchair. By the time the third operation had shown no positive results, Dr. Alfvén met with the entire family and delivered his final thesis. “We’re—how they say?—between a rock and a hard place,” he announced, rather proud of his command of the modern vernacular; “a sort of sticky wicket that no amount of, uh, medical know-how can simply just vault over. Lennie’s really healed well, doncha think?—but the spine is a horse of a different color, if you get my drift. . . . It’ something chiropractors make millions playing with, so some poor souls think they’re getting a couple days’ relief—and neurosurgeons slice and dice to help pinched nerves and calcium deposits go someplace else and find something else to drive you nuts with—neurologists try to move discs every which way so they won’t slip or grind—then athletes come along and break their necks playing football, or actors bust their keester doing stunts they’re too old to do, anyway. . . . Well. . . . Anyway, in Lennie’s case, the sacrum now looks pretty normal, pretty much back together like it should be, sort of—but even with all the pieces brand new and in their proper place, the nerves just aren’t reacting together like they should. They send signals all right, up the spine and to the brain, but—nobody’s home, so to speak. The nerves in the spine are, uh, like the controls in an airplane, you know, very sensitive to the slightest jarring—and that fall was, well, more than just a slight jarring. The spine is the shaft that makes the propeller spin at just the right, uh, pitch—it’s like a plane’s hydraulic system that makes the wings and the tail work together, and Lennie’s spine took a heck of a hit, and it’s like his ailerons and his rudder don’t jive—yet. . . . We’ve got to monitor him regularly and see each day of improvement there is, until the day comes—and it will come—that he can get up outta that wheelchair and, uh, resume a, well, a normal life. . . . I’m going to set up a program of physical therapy with Doctors Salmon and Sturges—”

“Sounds fishy to me,” Lennie snorted.

On the way home that afternoon from Dr. Alfvén’s office, Lennie said, in a resigned voice “Alfvén’s so fulla shit I can’t stand bein’ inna same room with’m, anymore.”

“Honey, I was thinking—maybe we should we get some other opinions?” Lolo wondered, her voice moving up an octave. “Maybe go to the Mayo or Johns Hopkins—or, you know, someplace?”

Lennie shook his head. “What for? Ain’t gonna do no good. Alfvén’s the best there is. . . . Shoot, he taught all them other guys. Y’know, Lolo, talkin’ to you is like gittin’ shot down by friendly fire. I ain’t never gonna get outta this fuckin’ chair, ever. . . . Sorry.”

Ironically, for Lolo, it was one of the happiest, stress-free times she could remember, not that it was something she could discuss with Lennie, Betsy—or anyone. Marriage to Hollywood’s leading double and stuntman had never been carefree or easy. The risks he had taken and the injuries he had suffered since they were married were the stuff nervous breakdowns were made of—not that the compensation allowing them a life-style most people only dream of was bad, the uncertainty of its continuity and longevity was as debilitating as the escalating dangers the stunts entailed. From the beginning, when they had first met on the set of Shadows of the Tiger, Lolo had learned to hold her breath every time he was thrown from a moving train or was pushed off a high cliff. Shadows was a Cecil B. DeMille potboiler for Fox that starred Barbara Stanwyck and Anthony Quinn, and Lennie was hired for a key fencing scene between Quinn and Basil Rathbone. Quinn was by no means an accomplished aficionado of the épée, while Rathbone, a true athlete and seasoned Shakespearean swordsman, was a master of the art who looked so at home flexing a foil that no one would believe Quinn could actually do him in after six minutes of choreographed mayhem. Lennie slipped into a billowing white blouse and medieval tights and, with his back mostly to the camera, gave DeMille a performance that launched him to heights unattainable by most character actors. Although Quinn impaled the classical actor at the end, Lennie’s adroit skills failed only once, allowing the star to disengage the foil from his adversaries grasp just long enough to believably administer the coup de grace to an astonished Rathbone. Lolo was in the picture also as a handmaiden to Stanwyck; she had one brief scene with Lennie (later removed from the final cut) that led to dating, living together, pregnancy, and finally marriage—six months before Betsy was born. Lennie went on to appear uncredited in hundreds of movies as a double and stuntman, and occasionally in speaking roles that kept him constantly employed; Lolo’s career became an up and down affair that earned her glowing reviews for perhaps a half dozen movies, but at the same time, a reputation for unreliability and insouciance that often left producers like Sam Goldwyn and Jesse Lasky in the “don’t call us . . .” mode. It was an unfair and fairly unfounded résumé, but her off-hand, caustic, almost cavalier attitude left studio executives and directors indifferent to her beauty and obvious talents. She, like Barbara Stanwyck, was briefly considered for the role of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind, but neither was offered a screen test (no one ever gave a plausible reason why, but in Lolo’s case, everyone knew.) Lennie, however, stood in for Gable in several pivotal scenes (driving the carriage through the flames during the burning of Atlanta, for one.) He also was in the party scene as George Reeves’ twin brother when the movie started, and he had the first spoken line: “What do we care if we are expelled from college, Scarlett? The war is going to start any day now, so we’d have to leave college anyhow.” Scarlett’s reply was her signature response, “Fiddle-dee-dee! War, war, war! This war talk’s spoiling all the fun at every party this spring.” Lennie was cut from the scene when Victor Fleming, the new director, was unhappy with his lack of “a real Southern accent, and besides, his hair isn’t red enough.” Actually, it was the same color as Reeves’ dark brown hair, which the future Superman actor had dyed nearly orange. Lennie was replaced by an unknown named Fred Crane, and the scene was shot and re-shot five times because the producer, David Selznick, thought Vivien Leigh was “showing too much of her tits.” Lennie was appalled. “Shoot,” he often told Lolo, “they shoulda gave the role to Hazel Warp inna first place. She’s got bigger boobs than ol’ Vivien ever had!” Hazel Warp was Scarlett’s double stuntwoman whenever Leigh was on horseback or falling down the stairs (Lennie doubled for Thomas Mitchell as Scarlett’s dad in all scenes involving horses, as Mitchell was scared to death of them; Lennie, in two takes, took the spill that finally killed old man O’Hara in the latter half of the picture; Selznick paid him the standard three hundred dollars for the fall, plus an additional fifty out of his own pocket.)

After Betsy was born, Lolo’s career came to a screeching halt for more than eight years—until TV took permanent residence in casting directors’ offices with the appetite of a demented monster and began siphoning off second and third string actors and actresses from wherever it could find them. In recent years, even before Rusted Spurs, Lolo accounted for twenty percent of the McCarthurs’ taxable income, not considering Betsy’s recent contributions. Now, it would be a different story—unless, as Lennie said, “they start hirin’ disabled actors in wheelchairs to jump outta airplanes!”

Trent DeBrine offered a welcome solution: “Stay out of the business and apply for long-term disability.”

“How’s that supposed to work?”

“I spoke with Morris Nussbaum over the weekend. You got two choices: you can sue NBC for twenty years of deprived income—which should cost you about half of what you’ll get in the end, probably ten years from now—or you can take the disability insurance until you’re—uh, you know—back on your feet, so to speak.”

“Mister Sensitivity . . .” Lolo muttered, mostly to herself.

Lennie asked, ”What did Nussbaum suggest?”

“Well, you got hurt working for an NBC series, on an NBC set at MGM—the whole thing’s on film, there’s no question what happened, nobody’s denying it—Nussbaum says forget the lawsuit, apply for the insurance . . .”

“How much?”

“I don’t know to the penny, exactly—but I suspect more’n ten times what some mid-level exec would get at General Motors, I guess.”

Wally spoke up from across the room. “I got a better idea. Pay him his disability insurance on what he’d make working as a stuntman double, and continue his salary as my old man on Rusted Spurs.”

“I don’t think so,” DeBrine said, shaking his head. “I think we’re going to re-shoot the ending and have Mahoney finish him off—once and for all.”

“Okay,” Wally said, getting up to leave the room. “And you might as well have him finish me off, too, as well. The season and the series’ll be all done. NBC don’t like it—sue me. Come on, Betsy, we’re outta here.”

DeBrine looked at the floor and sighed. “Jesus. Here we go again.”

17

It was half way through the fifth and final season of Rusted Spurs that Wally Emerson opened his eyes and looked at Betsy Rand as she sat next to him in bed reading, for the first time, Margaret Mitchell’s novel Gone With the Wind. Betsy was totally absorbed, unaware that he was watching her.

Married now nearly a year, living still in the tiny convoluted house of redwood playing cards on the beach in Malibu, Betsy was the happiest of brides, the narrow confines of the tiered house barely noticed that first year. “You want to move?” Wally had asked her countless times. “Uh-uh, not yet,” she replied, just as often. “Next year. Next month. I don’t know. . . . I did like that place in Brentwood, though, near the Powells. No ocean but a great pool. Five bedrooms were way too much, though.” Wally reminded her it was sold, anyway, and no longer available. “So . . . tough,” she said, indifferently. He watched her reading the old Civil War story and something occurred to him. He started to say something, but staring at his remarkable uxorial mate momentarily numbed his tongue.

Betsy had become, if it were possible, even more beautiful, to him, at twenty-two than she had been as a demure bride just twelve months ago. Her role as Freddie Lassiter’s love interest on Rusted Spurs was a wasted effort, in his mind, despite drawing more than five thousand fan letters a week; she was a ‘hot property’ by Hollywood standards, and directors other than Trent DeBrine were daily sending scripts for her to read—most of which she piled carefully on the floor by the desk in the second floor study, never to be looked at again. One producer—Harry Cohn at Columbia—did however tweak her interest with a logline for a modern treatment of Cleopatra, which, he claimed, he had Tyrone Power “in my back pocket” to play Marc Antony if the right female lead could be found. “I think I can get Betsy Rand,” Cohn told Power. “Get her and we’ll talk,” said the super star. It never happened. Lennie had said Power was too old, and Betsy was too young (Cleopatra had been about thirteen when she and Mark were an item.) She shrugged and changed the subject with, “Whatever you say, Ivan P.”

It was after nine-thirty, and they had a ‘call’ at MGM for six in the morning. That meant getting up at four-thirty and driving in for make-up and rehearsals scheduled for eight o’clock. TV was different from the movies, and deadlines were set for all scenes and episodes; this one had to be shot and edited and in the can by Friday; airtime was three weeks away. Wally, still looking at her in wonder said, “Turn out the light, babe, and go to sleep.” He glanced at the spine of the book. “Tomorrow’s another day,” he mumbled. “You ever read this book?” she asked, quietly curious. He shook his head. “You should. But the movie was much better. I think. Scott Fitzgerald was probably right.” Betsy closed the novel and reached for the lamp on the night table at her side. “What’d he say?” Wally asked. Betsy, in the dark, said, “He said you should just thumb through the pages; it reads like scripture. He wasn’t very impressed.” Wally guffawed. “Sour grapes. She sold a trillion copies more than Gatsby.” Betsy sighed deeply and asked, “If I wrote a novel, would I have to use my married name—by Elizabeth Emerson?—or could I just say, ‘by Betsy Rand?’” Wally scrunched the extra pillow under his arm. “I don’t know—and I care less. You writing a novel? Story of my life?” Betsy switched on the light; then she turned it off again. “I was just wondering,” she said. “Peggy Marsh’s husband was pissed off because she used her maiden name: Margaret Mitchell. Would you be pissed off?” Wally didn’t answer, but he did roll over and cuddle next to her, cupping her breast in is right hand. “Oh! . .” she said. “Are we going to . . . screw?”

“Yeah. You want to?”

“Whadda you think?”

It was after eleven by the time Wally fell asleep, and it was almost 2:45 when he woke up, startled again by his previous idea, bringing him upright in bed, leaning against the headboard. “Betsy . . . you awake?” There was no answer; he did not ask her again.

Wally looked in he direction of the telephone on the nightstand at his side of the bed, but it was barely visible. The only light coming through the floor-to-ceiling glass wall was the mild reflection of the quarter moon bouncing off a calm ocean, offering a silvery sheen that, while giving limited illumination, made the objects in the bedroom confusing and out of place. The telephone was there, but he wasn’t sure exactly where. He saw the lamp, but across the room the TV set had been absorbed into the armoire and had disappeared. The door to the bathroom was open, but because there was no window in there, Wally saw only a black lacuna. Groping, he found the phone and wondered if Lennie would be awake.

“Whaddya want?” Lennie growled, on the seventh ring.

“Lennie?”

“Who is this?”

“Me. You asleep?”

“No . . . goddamn it. I hada get up to answer the g’damn phone. You know what time it is?”

“Eastern—or Western Hemisphere?”

“Jay-sus.”

“No, listen, Lennie, I got a great idea!” Betsy stirred beside him, then asked to whom he was talking. “Your dad. I fell asleep, then I woke up . . . with this great idea—you were sleeping—I wanted to call him while, uh, it was, you know . . . Lennie?’ His father-in-law had hung up. “Lennie? . . . He hung up on me.”

Betsy turned and looked at the four-inch red numbers on the digital clock on the dresser on her side of the room. “It’s almost three,” she said, her voice tetchy and huskier with sleep.

“I know. But I’ve got to tell him about this. I’ve got the idea of the century.” Wally started to get out of bed.

“Nuclear power?”

“No. Better’nat.” He switched on the nightstand lamp and turned to her, standing naked at his side of the bed.

“Pajamas?” Betsy asked.

“No. Don’t be silly. . . . I want to re-make Gone With the Wind.”

Betsy glanced out the window and noticed how flat and motionless the Pacific could be when pressed down by a quarter moon unencumbered by passing clouds. “Re-make Gone With the Wind,” she repeated.

“Yeah. . . . Whaddaya think?”

Betsy ran her tongue over her lips. “Come here,” she commanded. “You’re very tense. I think I should relax you—before you have a heart attack. Or maybe I can give you one.”

Wally began crawling to her across the bed. “Yeah . . . but just think—Gone With the Wind!”

“Right.” She held up her arms to him. “Come to momma. . . . Like the lady said, ‘Tomorrow’s another day’.”

The conversation pit at the Powells’ house in Brentwood was well occupied for this causerie, but not crowded. The crimson shag had been cleaned a week earlier, but its surface was so flattened by Saturday evening’s activity it looked more like a Saxony than a frieze. “I love your new carpet!” Lolo remarked; and Amy Powell said, “Snot new. Had it cleaned week ago.” Brian Donlevy was being careful not to flick ashes from his ubiquitous cigarettes, and Lennie stayed in is wheelchair near the top step. Edmund O’Brien sat reclined in the pit with Donlevy’s new wife, while Olga San Juan sat next to Betsy and chatted about decorating the Emerson’s Malibu house. Trent DeBrine was sprawled on the floor, leaning his elbow against the bottom step, and Wally stood in the center with Terry Powell. Everyone was talking at once and everyone was listening as best anyone could; they were all well dressed in casual, comfortable Saturday-evening-dinner-out-at-friends’-attire of frocks, pant suits, Hawaiian shirts, polo shirts, and linen and khaki trousers. The men all wore loafers, but only Wally and Lennie wore socks. The women had on either flip-flops or were barefoot in the conversation pit. Dinner was a tableau of the past; they were on their second after-dinner drinks, and Trent DeBrine began talking louder than anyone. “You nuts?” he said, raising his voice at Wally. “That’s the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard. That’s as dumb as Eddie over there, and Peter Lorrie, suggesting they drive a stake through Lugosi’s heart to make sure he was really dead! . . . Sorry, Lillian . . .” he muttered, gesturing with his drink toward Donlevy’s new bride, the former widow of Bella Lugosi.

“Oh, that wasn’t me,” O’Brien protested. “That was Lorrie and Vincent Price. But I think the classic was when Raoul Walsh and Bruce Cabot stole John Barrymore’s body from the funeral home, dressed him in an ascot and smoking jacket, propped him up in a chair with a drink in his hand in Errol Flynn’s living room, then waited in the dark for the great Robin Hood to return home. Talk about scaring the shit outta someone!”

Everyone laughed, but Amy Powell, who said, “I don’t think that’s a true story . . .”

“Oh, it is!” Lolo asserted. And Lennie added, “Sure is. I was s’posed to be there, but I was in Arizona doin’ a thing with Glen Ford and Howard Hughes.”

Wally reached down and put his hand on DeBrine’s shoulder. “Why is it such a dumb idea?”

The director turned away from Wally. “Listen to this, everybody. Wally here wants to do a re-make of Gone With the Wind. I mean, actually do a re-make! You ever hear such bullcrap? ”

Wally shrugged and removed his hand from DeBrine’s shoulder. “Hold on. Let me get a word in edgewise about this—it’s why you’re all here tonight, anyway. The other night Betsy was reading Gone With the Wind, we were in bed at the time—”

“Yeah—we bet you were!” Terry inserted, and everyone laughed.

“No,” Wally went on, “she reads in bed all the time. . . . Anyway, listen, I’ve never read the book, but I’ve seen the movie half a dozen times—great movie—it really is . . . but it’s old and tired, and frankly, I think it’s got a lot of flaws—like mostly in the casting, and in the production, the shooting, uh, the direction. . . . Anyway, it’s thirty years old, and I think it’s time it was re-made with a new cast, new direction—maybe even some new plot twists—”

“Right,” O’Brien interrupted. “Mitchell and MGM will certainly go along with that! Selznick’s kids will hang you in effigy. And I don’t think Margaret Mitchell’s heirs are about to say, ‘Go get ‘em, Wally-boy!’”

Wally looked at the veteran actor as if his fly were open. “You know something, Eddie—you can be such an ass. How would you feel if you had the chance to play Jonas Wilkerson, the O’Hara field overseer?”

“Good Lord,” Donlevy inquired, “have you already cast the damn thing?”

“Yeah. And I got you pegged for John Wilkes—Terry’s father.”

Terry Powell perked up. “My dad? Who’m I?”

“Ashley Wilkes—the Leslie Howard part. . . . Listen to me, all of you, I’ve got it all laid out. Lennie will be Gerald O’Hara, the father. Betsy is Scarlett, Sally Field is Melanie Hamilton, Lolo is Ellen, Gerald’s wife, Scarlett’s mom. I’ve got it all worked out. Trent will direct. I will produce . . . ”

“Whooweeeeowww!” Donlevy cried out. “And we’ll all be cell mates in San Quentin! Can I get another drink?”

The laughter was heavy and, to Wally’s ear, it was mean. He looked at Betsy, and his spirits were somewhat lifted to see she was not as amused as the others. Lolo dabbed at her eyes with her handkerchief, and it was difficult to tell if she was laughing or crying—although when she spoke, it became obvious. “Wally, Wally, Wally—sweetheart, when was the last time you even read the book?”

“I—well, like I said, I never read it. But I saw the picture five times, at least. . . . Look, it’s been thirty years since it was made, and, uh, frankly, I don’t think it was made very well. It’s either too long—or it’s not long enough—and the writing, the acting is, well, stilted and overblown, the directing is weak and, uh, loose—there’s a lot of stupid bigotry, if you know what I mean. I know, I know, it’s considered one of the top five movies ever made, but as far as I’m concerned, it could be made better—the technology is so much better today, the plot back then was actually shoddy, seems thrown together just to, you know, get the damn thing done and satisfy everyone what life in the South before, during and after the Civil War was supposed to be like—and it just doesn’t play right anymore. . . . And it’s so badly miscast.”

The laughter subsided slowly as Wally was speaking, and for a moment no one said anything. Then O’Brien spoke up: “Assuming anything what you’re saying is true, where would you get the money? Selznick had the Whitney’s millions in his wallet, and he still had to make deals right and left to fund the project. The damn movie ran up production costs of nearly four million in the late thirties—today, you’d be looking at a hundred mill! Who you got with that kinda loot?”

“On toppa that,” Lennie chimed in from his perch at the edge of the top step, “Selznick had to pay Mitchell fifty grand jus’ for the rights to the book, then he had to get his ol’ father-in-law, Louis Mayer, to kick in half the movie’s budget for fifty percent of all the profits, plus fifteen percent of the gross—jus’ so’s he could get Clark Gable to play ol’ Rhett Butler—an’ even then they had tuh make a deal to pay off Gable’s wife so’s she’d divorce him an’ he could marry up with Carole Lombard! Who you gonna get to play Butler?”

They turned and stared at Wally, who mustered a shrug. “I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe Paul Newman. Or Marlon Brando. Henry Fonda. James Garner. Burt Reynolds. I don’t know.”

“Brando would be best,” Betsy offered, and most everyone laughed afresh.

“If you could get him!” Olga San Juan said.

“Yeah—for about a hundred million!” Donlevy predicted.

“And even if you could,” Edmund O’Brien said, “he’d never say ‘damn’ on the screen.”

“Right,” agreed Lennie. “I can see’m now, standin’ in the doorway, an’ Betsy cryin’, ‘Whaddam I gonna do if y’all leave me, Rhett?’ He’d say, ‘Frankly, my dear, I doan give a shit,’ or better still, ‘a flyin’ fuck’.”

“Lennie!” Lolo sighed.

Trent DeBrine clamored up to his knees. “Getting back to the money,” he continued, “seriously, who do you think is going to hand you a hundred million to chase this—this pipedream? Have you given a minute’s thought to, you know, all the legal ramifications—”

“Morris Nussbaum,” Wally said.

“Nussbaum? You think he’s got a hundred million?”

“Not Nussbaum himself. NBC. The network. They could buy the property, all the rights. The Sarnoffs. The . . . network.”

“Man, you’re whistlin’ Dixie. What’re you gonna call this—epic? Gone With the Wind Two? The Sequel? Revisited?”

Wally shook his head. “No. I’ve thought it out. I mean, there’s a lot I haven’t worked out yet. . . . Just Gone With the Wind. No addendums. Just that.”

“It’ll never happen,” Terry Powell insisted.

“Maybe. Maybe not.” Wally sipped his drink and looked at Betsy for encouragement. She winked at him, and he winked back. “Worst they can say is ‘no.’ We’ll see. And,” to Powell, he said, “I still want you for the Leslie Howard part. . . . Tomorrow’s another day.”

18

The final episode of Rusted Spurs was complete and in the can before the end of February, and Wally, his parents Nelson and Doris Emerson, his wife Betsy, his in-laws Lolo and Lenny, and Trent DeBrine as well flew to New York for a media omnium-gatherum at NBC to celebrate the end of TV’s 6th longest running, most successful drama series to date, after Kraft Television Theater, Studio One, GE Theater, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and the U.S. Steel Hour. NBC’s private banquet suites at the Rainbow Room high up in Rockefeller Plaza were the site of a lavish afternoon and evening soirée, a plenary event attended by network executives, affiliate representatives, show business personalities and their agents, select governmental officials, and media mavens from all major national and world press outlets. Not surprisingly, Wally gravitated to New York Times’ sports columnists and the table presided over by the inimitable Red Smith, who was freelancing since the demise of the Herald- Tribune. “So, you did sports at WGND in Buffalo?” “I sure did, yeah—sometimes.” “Gosh, I just met your old boss—Dick Butterworth.” “Wow. Is he here?” “Yeah—he was a couple minutes ago, anyway. . . . There he is!” Smith pointed toward the windows, and Wally spotted Butterworth right off. Heavier, balder, somehow shorter than Wally remembered him, he was standing at one of many bars, talking with some other well dressed, attractive, obviously important people. Wally moved through the crowd and lingered occasionally with congratulations and necessary small talk until he had elbowed his way next to Butterworth.

“Hey. Dick!”

Butterworth turned away from a pretty young brunette he had been talking with and threw his arms about Wally. “Wally! Wally, me boy! It’s great to see you again! Jesus, I can’t believe you really did it! Hollywood! Stardom! To think I once had you on staff in—Buffalo—of all the God-forsaken places on God’s green earth!” His voice was thunderous, full of what seemed genuine pride and an ample allotment of Johnny Walker Black. “Man, what a great show Rusted Spurs was—is! The ratings are fabulous—the re-runs will run for, uh, fifty years! Jesus, we’re sure the losers now! . . Hey, everybody—say hello to the Wally Emerson!”

Wally shook hands with some of the men Butterworth was with at the bar—each one was introduced, but he caught none of their names; he assumed they were Western New York broadcasting executives invited, as was everyone in the Rainbow Room that day, to NBC’s paean to the stars of its most successful series in years. Wally, however, was attracted more to the beautiful young lady at Butterworth’s side, her arm interlaced with his and displaying a dazzling diamond tennis bracelet. She looked curiously familiar, and Wally wondered if he knew her from somewhere. The mist of concern was apparent as Butterworth spoke through it, “I think you two know each other. Wally, this is my wife—Geraldine.”

Pow! Sock! Bingo! Bango! Bongo! Wally’s jaw was a loose mandible, his mouth a perfect oval. “Geraldine? . . Geraldine—Furk?”

She smiled a brilliant slice of gleaming ivory. “Well, I used to be called ‘Geraldine Emerson’ but I guess I sort of outgrew it.”

“Yep,” Butterworth kvelled, happily concurring for everyone’s benefit. “Geraldine came down to the station many years ago, shortly after you left, Wally, I s’pose looking for your last paychecks, I guess—Hah! Hah!—so she said, anyway—I happened to meet her, we got talking, took her out to dinner a couple times—and now, as Paul Harvey says, you know the rest of the story! He leaned over and pecked lightly at her cheek. “Married me the prettiest little bundle of sheer joy God ever created! And guess what, Wally?” The actor could not take his eyes off Geraldine. “We’ve got the handsomest four year old little guy in the whole wide world—named him Frederick—after your character on Rusted Spurs! Whaddya think of that?” Two or three of the men with them applauded; one exclaimed, “Hear! Hear!”

Wally finally took Geraldine’s hand and offered confused, mystified best wishes. “I never would have recognized you,” he said. “You look—well, a lot different. Younger; more beautiful; thinner—uh—just absolutely gorgeous.” He looked at Butterworth. “Congratulations. . . . I just can’t believe this, any of this. Wow.”

“Well, hell,” Butterworth roared. “Look at you! Married to the greatest star in America today . . .”

“I didn’t know he was married to Katharine Hepburn!” Betsy said, coming up from the throng behind them and stepping alongside Wally, thrusting her arm through his, displaying nothing more ostentatious than her gold Rolex Oyster. “Of course, he doesn’t tell me everything.”

“Betsy, this is Dick Butterworth, my old boss—I think he sent us those, uh, beautiful coffee mugs—Dick, this is Betsy Rand, my new boss . . . uh, this is Geraldine, uh, Butterworth—my ex-wife—I would never have known her!—and these are, uh, friends and colleagues of, uh, Mr. Butterworth—Dick—I’m sorry, gentlemen, I’m lousy at names . . .”

“At least you remembered mine,” Geraldine said, “sorta.”

“Can we sit down?” Betsy said. “My feet are killing me.”

NBC had taken over the entire sixty-fifth floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, and the Rusted Spurs party was scattered throughout the Rainbow Room: the Pavilion, the Rainbow and Stars Suite, and the Park Suite. Betsy, Wally, Geraldine and Dick Butterworth left the Pavilion and found Lolo, Lennie, Wally’s parents, and Trent DeBrine at a table in the main Rainbow Room suite. They joined them just as Lennie was saying, “Shoot, I seen some great views, but I ain’t never seen nuthin like this ol’ Central Park place—it’s like, I doan know, a moss patch band-aide inna middle of a, I doan know—jungle.”

“You should see it in the summertime,” DeBrine said.

Lennie shook his head. “I couldn’t stand it.”

Betsy dropped into an empty chair next to her mother, and Wally introduced Geraldine and Dick Butterworth around the table. Butterworth was spellbound to be actually at a table with Lennie McCarthur and Lolo Rand while sequestered in a place with nearly a thousand guests. He took Lennie’s hand in both of his and shook it profusely. He leaned forward as if he wanted to embrace Lolo just as Wally diverted his attention to Trent DeBrine. “And this,” Wally said, “is the true brains behind Rusted Spurs: our director, Trent DeBrine. Without him cracking the riding crop and stomping about in his jodhpurs and boots, we’d never gotten anyting done!” DeBrine came to his feet and shook hands with Butterworth, but he openly stared at Geraldine. “I never wore jodhpurs in my life,” he muttered meekly. “And this,” Wally announced, “is the lovely Geraldine Butterworth—and old friend of mine from Buffalo.”

“What he means, actually,” Geraldine said, smiling merrily, “is an old wife of his. Wally and I were married years ago—when I was just a kid.”

Betsy laughed out loud, thinking some kid! “I think they were married—actually—on my fifth birthday! And,” she added, “annulled before I was in first grade. Buffalo is so like Hollywood.”

“You’re right about that, Miss Rand,” Butterworth said, missing the point entirely, “except for the weather. We get the lake effect off Lake Erie like mad—this year alone we already got fifty-one inches!”

Geraldine sat down between Trent DeBrine and her husband. Lennie maneuvered his wheelchair closer to the table and asked how she and Dick Butterworth ever got together in the first place. “Well,” she said, “after me and Wally split up, after I had a miscarriage—I might have had more’n just one, actually—and he took off for California, I went down to the station to see if he had any, you know, unclaimed pay coming, or anything like that, which back in those days I could really use, and I was interduced to Dick here, and we got talking . . . and one thing just led to another. We been married now for almost four years.”

“And,” Wally was quick to add, knowing Lolo would be counting in her head, “they have a fine young four year old son named, wouldja believe, Frederick!”

“Well, I’ll be damned!” Lennie said. “I’ll drink tuh that!” and he raised his tumbler of Jack Daniel’s. There was a brief rumble around the table of what might be interpreted as a sort of toast, but it was followed by an awkward, introspective silence. “So,” Wally said, to Dick Butterworth, “what have you been up to, besides getting married and making heirs? You still program director at WGND?”

“Oh, lord, no! After you left,” he replied, joshing, “they didn’t know what to do with me. Since letting our prized, uh, personality get away and snatched up by Hollywood, they had to either fire me—which is probably what they shoulda done—Hah! Hah!—or give me a raise. Instead, they just kicked me upstairs—I’m a senior veep now, next to old man Otterman, on the board—you know, big title, nuthin to do, just initial things and show up for meetings. Look important. Hah! Hah!”

“Sort of like Morrie Nussbaum,” Lennie chuckled, noticing that NBC’s president of entertainment was making his way through the crowd and about to join them. “Did I hear somebody mention my name?” the rotund network mogul asked, amicably, shaking hands with Butterworth and saying hello to his wife.

DeBrine jumped in with, “Wally’s been making racial remarks about me, that’s all.”

“What?”

“Cracking the whip—that’s a racial slur that comes from what plantation overseers did to keep the slaves in line . . .”

“Oh, for God’s sake,” Wally intoned. “I said ‘riding crop’ not whip, and besides, how can I make a racial slur about a white man? You are a white man, aren’t you?”

“There he goes again!” DeBrine looked up at Nussbaum, as he was sitting down next to Wally’s parents. “We might as well get used to it, Morrie—he wants to make a re-make of Gone With the Wind.”

Nussbaum put a fatherly hand over Doris Emerson’s and said, “I heard about that. You’re well aware your son is a certified nut case, aren’t you, Mrs. Emerson? . . .You serious, Wally?”

“Dead.”

“Lotsa luck. Where you gonna get the money, which is only the smallest part of your problems?”

Wally leaned back in his chair, aware that everyone at the table was looking at him, expecting him to reveal a master strategy for bankrolling the re-make, but, at the moment, he had only the nucleus of an idea. “I thought maybe you and the network as a whole could come up with about ten million apiece, and you could talk the Sarnoffs into another thirty. What do you think?” Nussbaum’s laugh was infectious; the rest quickly joined in. “I think you got too much California sun, son—too much, too soon. You seriously gonna need fifty million?” Wally nodded and glanced at his father. Nelson Emerson was all ears, sitting, as he was, on the edge of Big Time Show Business Negotiations. Both he and Doris had known for years Wally was on a fast track in Hollywood, but even after five years with him, Betsy, and the McCarthurs, they had no idea how fast his fast track had become. The elder Emerson shook his head and said, “You sound like one of them infomercials on TV late at night tryin’ to get people to buy stock in some hair-brained scheme. All you need is the gift of gab, son!” He playfully nudged his wife, who giggled dutifully, and they both looked about the table to see if anyone else was amused.

No one was, certainly not Wally, who, looking at Betsy, then at Lennie, was about to say something. But if he were, it would have to wait; at that moment, dinner was served.

Constantly during the reception and cocktail party, butlers and housekeepers had been circulating through the Rainbow Room suites with silver trays, offering a variety of crab croquettes, small millefeuilles with cheese, vol au vent with shrimp cocktail en sauce, zucchini alla Cipriani, and choux with wild mushrooms. The elegant staff was decked out in faux cowboy attire, right down to snakeskin boots, pseudo Grapes of Wrath hats, and Freddy Lassiter cap guns in be-jeweled holsters; they now brought around special menus cast in aluminum in the shape of a rusted spur, embellished with the NBC logo on one side of the rowel and Wally’s likeness in his cap on the other. Along the shank of the spur, amidst an artist’s splatter of brown rust, were the choices for tonight: tagliardi with lobster thermidor, roast rack of veal, filet mignon alla Rossini, roast lamb chops, or cold salmon with Russian salad. The reverse of the shank listed the appetizers, pasta dishes, extensive wines, and seven desserts. The kickshaw was gibberish to Doris Emerson, but she knew what filet mignon was, and so long as it was well done, she was happy; Nelson slipped his novelty menu into his blue blazer jacket pocket to add, eventually, to his growing collection of Hollywood souvenirs. Betsy said, “Mmm-mmm. Chocolate cake with Zabaione sauce. Bring it on!” Geraldine looked up at her and asked, “You pregnant, lady?” Wally laughed out loud, and Lennie said, “Shoot, I’d j’soon have a burger’n some poe-tay-toe chips. How you gonna feed all this stuff tuh all these freeloaders, anyhow?” Nussbaum said, “Fast and hot—I hope. You wanna a hamburger, I bet I can getcha one.” Trent DeBrine chuckled, “I bet you could!”

Dinner conversation was primarily limited to TV and movies and their myriad mysteries and malignancies. Everyone wanted to know what Lennie and Lolo were going to do now that Rusted Spurs was over, and though Lennie merely shrugged with bland insouciance, Wally said they had nothing to worry about. DeBrine said, dryly, “He’s already cast them as Scarlett O’Hara’s Ma and Pa Kettle in his re-make.”

Wally looked up from the doodling he was doing on the tablecloth. “Yeah. And what we all get from the re-run resids on Rusted Spurs, Lennie’ll have hamburgers to burn.” Betsy looked over his elbow and tried to discern the scratches he’d made with his pen. “What’s all that?” she asked, and he looked over at her with true affection. “The future, sweetheart,” he whispered.

During dessert Walter Young, the network’s pro tempore president and CEO, went up to the stage at the far end of the Rainbow Room, quieted the NBC quintet (it was actually Dave Brubeck’s group) that had been playing throughout dinner, and the head of NBC began a series of speeches that lasted nearly forty minutes—speeches, in toto, that repetitiously sang the praises of Rusted Spurs, its creator, Orin Farmer, its staff of writers—Lorraine Johansson, Teddy Meloni, Donald Olenet, and Corey Provence—its director (nearly every episode,) Trent DeBrine, and its stars Lennie McCarthur, Lolo Rand, Betsy Rand, Jock Mahoney, Roger Naylor, and—of course—Wally Emerson. By prior arrangement, Wally had agreed to speak for all of them, and it was up to Sy Fraser, NBC’s West Coast vice president of program development, to introduce him; Frazer was the last to speak after Young, Nussbaum, and Homer Gladstone.

“NBC has a bevy of stars,” Fraser said. “Too many, really, to name here. But if you look at the roster, no one can say that we come in second with putting the names of actors and actresses on our credits with more devotion to the wants of our viewers than any other network on the air today. From Johnny Carson to Walt Disney, NBC leads the way. In fact, Johnny is here with us tonight, even though we couldn’t get him to speak to you all on this rare and delightful occasion.” Fraser glanced in the direction of Carson’s table, pointed to it, and amidst the applause, mimicked, “Heeeerrrrrre’s, Johnny!” Smiling his standard sardonic grin, the irrepressible night-time host stood and waved to the throng; with an uncharacteristic show of camaraderie, he turned toward Wally’s table and gave a ‘thumb’s up.’ The crowd clapped and whooped until Ed McMahon stood up beside Carson and gestured for the crowd to cool it. “So,” Fraser expatiated, “we are very proud to have Wally Emerson and the entire cast of Rusted Spurs with us tonight—even though the show goes through March, it’s ‘in the can,’ as they say, for the final season. We wanted Lennie McCarthur to come up and speak for the cast, but he says he was afraid Wally might push his wheelchair off the Empire State Building—” he gestured out the window at the multi-colored-lit skyscraper—“so we had no choice. Ladies and gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to call upon the young man who literally came out of nowhere and took Hollywood by storm—the star, the backbone, the irreplaceable husband of Betsy Rand and son-in-law of Lolo Rand and Lennie McCarthur, the star of Rusted Spurs—our own Freddie Lassiter! . . . Wal—ly Emerson!”

Pandemonium. Applause, catcalls, whoopla, screaming, foot stomping. Wally left his table after leaning over and pecking at Betsy’s cheek—“Now,” she whispered, “you got some idea what winning an Oscar is like!”—and made his way across the dance floor and mounted the stage beside Fraser. They shook hands and Wally embraced him, whispering in his ear, “Whaddyou mean, you prick, ‘came outta nowhere’? Buffalo is nowhere? Your own Freddie Lassiter! What an asshole! How much money you got in the bank?”

To his credit, Fraser never stopped smiling, and he left the stage uncertain what Wally had just said, but sure it had not been complimentary: ah, actors—artists—so damn unpredictable! I should be used to it by now!

Wally held up his hands, palms outward, to quiet the crowd—some, most, standing—“Thank you! Thank you!. . . Thank you!. . . You’re very kind! . . . Thank you! . . . . Please—sit down, everyone!” It was several minutes before the ovation stopped; once, for support, Wally turned to those at his table and gestured openly in supplication. Lennie was laughing and Lolo and Betsy just shook their heads. Doris beamed with unabashed pride, and Nelson gnawed on his lower lip, uncertain how much was genuine encomium and how much was just show business ass kissing. The rest looked at each other, patiently waiting for order to be restored, and it finally was.

“Friends . . . colleagues,” Wally said, “this is certainly a highlight in all our—” his wide gesture included everyone at his table—“careers. Especially mine. I know Lennie McCarthur and Lolo Rand . . . my wife Betsy Rand . . . Trent DeBrine, and all the others—the NBC family in particular—all of you are used to accolades of this sort, and maybe someday I will be, too. But for right now, I’m the new kid on the block, so to speak. It was just over five years ago that I got off a plane from Buffalo and interrupted the lives of the McCarthurs, the Terry Powells, Brian Donlevy and the Eddie O’Briens . . . with some insane desire to be part of an industry I really didn’t know very much about. But I had some good teachers—most certainly my wife, Betsy Rand.” He was stopped by substantial applause, prolonged enough for Betsy to stand up and wave to her admirers. “Hard to believe, but that beautiful lady was not quite fifteen years old when I first arrived at Lennie and Lolo’s ranch, which, ironically, in case you don’t know, is called, of all things, Bar Amateurs!” Laughter was scattered throughout the Rainbow Room. “Well, now, just a few years later, Betsy and I are married—would you believe it!—” more enthusiastic, sustained applause—“my folks, Doris and Nelson Emerson, are living nearby in Encino—Lennie and Lolo, thinking maybe retirement was just around the corner—well, they got another think coming. Even though Rusted Spurs has, thank God, run its course”—more applause and laughter—“none of us is ready to, uh, hang up our spurs just yet. Betsy, who’s already won one Oscar, is going into production next week at Universal starring in a new movie with, of all people, Paul Newman”—applause, catcalls—“which may well garner nominations for the both of them.” Again, more applause. “And when she’s finished with that, I hear rumors of a made-for-TV movie—which I assume NBC is smart enough to pick up—that will probably clutter our small abode with even more Emmys.” General laughter. “But after that, she will be all mine for a while. You know why?”. . . .You’re gonna get her pregnant! someone shouted from the audience. “No,” Wally laughed, “not anything as simple as that, I assure you. No—what she’ll be doing next is . . . starring in a brand new re-make of—Gone With the Wind!”

If pauses could be pregnant, this one certainly was. Most in the room had heard rumors to the effect, but this was the first confirmation anyone had that Wally and his cronies were seriously planning such an innovation—not that his cronies were that involved at this stage, nor as enthusiastic.

To fill the gap, Wally proceeded with even greater fervor. “I know what you’re all thinking: Wally Emerson has finally lost all his marbles. Well, maybe he has—but just listen to what I have in mind before you throw me out the window and splatter me on Fiftieth Street . . . . Imagine a brand new Gone With the Wind—with a brand new script, brand new technology, new music, new sets, new color—and a brand new cast of box-office dominating actors working with a brand new director. Not too mention, a brand new audience who only barely ever heard of Margaret Mitchell, Scarlett O’Hara, Rhett Butler, and the whole slew of characters maybe most people think they know, after thirty years, but can’t even begin to identify with. Sure, the American Film Institute rates the old flick one of the top five ever produced—but so what? That was then, and now is now! Imagine, if you will, Betsy Rand playing Scarlett O’Hara—Lennie McCarthur as her dad, Lolo as her mother, Terry Powell as Ashley Wilkes, Sally Field as Melanie Hamilton, Brian Donlevy as John Wilkes, Edmund O’Brien as Jonas Wilkerson, Lassie Wintringham as Mammy, a brand new thirteen-year-old named Oprah Winfrey as Prissy. For writers—”

“What about Rhett Butler?” someone shouted from halfway back in the room.

“Yeah—what about Rhett Butler?” Wally repeated. “Well—how about . . . Marlon Brando?”

If silence was truly golden, the Rainbow Room became Fort Knox. If one name could stun the hard-nosed sophisticates from corporate broadcasting and movie making—not to mention media representatives who were supposed to be totally immune—Brando was it. If Wally has said Robert Taylor, Alan Arkin, or Ray Milland, most would have shrugged and said, “Nice try, kid; get lost.” But combining, subtly as he did, Betsy Rand with Marlon Brando, Wally now had their undivided and riveted attention.

“Just think of it, imagine it for a moment: Betsy Rand and Marlon Brando—in the movie of the century—and everything brand new. Think of the audience—think of the promotions—think of the stature—think of the . . . revenue. Ah, the revenue, the loot, the gelt. Think of a movie scripted by talent writers such as became national treasures on Rusted Spurs—Teddy Meloni, Don Olenet, Lorraine Johansson, Corey Provence, Orin Farmer—adapted from Margaret Mitchell’s novel the way the author saw it, not as David Selznick imagined it to be. Just think, just imagine . . .”

Another shout from the shadows interrupted him. “Who’s gonna pay for it? You?”

“Me?” Wally’s hand formed a visor over his eyes as if he really wanted to see who had called out. “’Shoot,’ as Lennie McCarthur would say, ‘if I had that kinda money, I got somebody else’s pants on!’ . . . . No, I can’t handle it alone, as much as I wish I could. No, as the executive producer, all I want to do is help Trent DeBrine as best as I can—and raise all the money necessary to make it happen. How? Easy. From you. From you all. All of you.”

For some reason, this elicited a round of sustained applause, though no one had a clue way he was applauding.

“Before you get too excited,” Wally quickly moved on, “here’s the way I see it. You guys in the press take notes and get ready to call your headline writers . . . ” Taking a deep breath, Wally played what he knew was his last trump card. “We’re going to sell shares in this venture, in the new Gone With the Wind. Anybody who wants to is gonna be able to buy an interest—stock, if you will—in this movie—ownership—a piece of the pie, a piece of the rock—a piece of the profits. I’m going to offer you—you folks here tonight—first dibs on the greatest show business offer ever made!—stock in a brand new re-make of Gone With the Wind!” Wally pulled some papers from his pocket, scraps on which he had made notations during dinner, from which he outlined his plan: “We’re going to sell 40,000 shares of this movie, and each share is going to cost twenty-five thousand dollars, with a minimum purchase of four shares. One hundred grand to open, so to speak, and after the minimum purchase of four shares, you can buy as much as you want—five shares, six, ten shares, twelve—as many as you want . . . . I think I’m safe in assuming Mr. Young, Mr. Nussbaum, the Sarnoffs, and the whole NBC family—yes, even you, Johnny Carson!—will be in for—at least—a thousand shares . . . Right?

“But I’m no dummy—and neither are you. A lot of people and companies are going to want in, but for some, twenty-five thousand per share is a stiff cut. But wait—there’s more!—operators are standing by! How about some of you affiliate CEOs and general managers getting together with your senior personnel, your staff people—and pooling your money? Say you’ve got fifty people on staff that could lay out five hundred dollars to get a slice of the future? Maybe only twenty-five people who could come up with a grand each? What about your major sponsors, your technical suppliers, your various news organizations? See, it doesn’t really matter how you structure it—you’re going to be able to help a hell of a lot of people literally strike gold—I mean, grab the brass ring!—in less than five years!

“Let’s say we wind up spending a hundred million to make this epic the way it should be—and, frankly, my dears, I don’t give a damn if we can do it for far less—or even more—I think we can bring it in for a lot less . . . In five years, our ticket sales and rights’ deals should top a billion dollars! You do the math—what will your stock be worth then? . . ” The ovation began to override him, drown him out. “Am I right! . . . Right! . . . Right!”

The trip back to Los Angeles in NBC’s Learjet 23, The Flying Peacock, was memorable, if for no other reason than the sheer luxury of the airplane. After a third night at the Waldorf-Astoria, Wally was anxious to get home, as was Betsy with line-study and rehearsals for the Paul Newman flick scheduled to get underway in ten days. Wally knew he would have to get with the Mitchell family in Atlanta to secure the rights to the book, and Nussbaum had graciously made the Lear available for as long as Wally might need it.

“Can we stop in Buffalo and see everyone?” Doris asked, and before Wally could say no, his father interjected with, “Why you wanna see anybody in Buffalo for —and who we know we care about that much, anyway?” Dick Butterworth, hoping to snare a ride home in the Lear for Geraldine and him, suggested Wally come in and, for old time sake, see “the old gang” from WNGD. Wally said it would be impossible; the weather was crap, and anyway, there was not enough time. Betsy said it might be fun; Wally just shook his head. They said their good-byes to the Butterworths before stepping into the limo and heading from Radio City back to the Waldorf-Astoria.

Aboard the Lear, Lennie was strapped into a deep leather recliner in the aft of the cabin, near the ‘head,’ comfortably aware the bar behind him was well stocked with Jack Daniel’s. Lolo was nearby, and Betsy sat on the sofa with Wally, while Trent DeBrine sprawled in one of the lounge chairs against the fuselage. Morrie Nussbaum, accompanying them to lay groundwork with MGM and the production people in Burbank, sat near the cockpit door. Doris and Nelson Emerson sat on the sofa across from Wally and Betsy; they sat upright, rigid and tense, nervous and apprehensive on their first private jet ride, their seatbelts so tight gangrene was a threat to their lower extremities. A tall blonde stewardess, replete in her NBC/Radio City Music Hall uniform and pillbox hat, scurried about the cabin making sure everyone was securely strapped in and had everything they needed. Wally watched her thoughtfully and had an idea. “What you should do,” he said to Nussbaum, “is get three models just like her to skate out on the ice at Madison Square Garden when the Ice Follies is in town, streak the screen with NBC peacock colors, have the girls come together at center ice—then have Janet Champion come out and bong them each on their little round hats with a blade protector, and we’d heard the xylophone off-camera go Bing! Bang! Bong! Make an NBC I.D. like nobody ever saw before!”

Nussbaum regarded the young star with his mouth set in ‘chagrin’ mode. “Stick to acting,” he said.

Wally chuckled self-consciously and changed the subject. “I think talking with MGM is a waste of time,” he said, loud enough for all to hear. “Why do you say that?” Nussbaum wondered. “They only have rights to the original movie,” Wally pointed out. “True,” Nussbaum conceded; “but you’re laying yourself wide open for a lengthy court battle if you don’t persuade them to at least relinquish the name to you, for a price. They’ll argue the point, but forget the characters. When Mitchell sold the book rights to Selznick, she also gave him the title—Gone With the Wind. When Selznick sold the film rights to MGM, he gave them the title as well. But I think the Mitchell estate retained rights to the characters and what they said that came outta the book. You make a picture called Gone With the Wind without making a deal with MGM, you and all the rest will go to jail the minute the first frame hits the screen. Remember, a title can’t be copyrighted—but you’ve got to give MGM their pound of flesh.” After a pause, Wally muttered, “Shit,” and looked pensively out the window. “Change the name,” Lennie suggested. “Call it The Breaking Wind is Gone.”

The clock mounted on the starboard bulkhead, just under the altimeter and airspeed indicator, showed 10:48 AM—early by some standards but, as calculated by Lennie, “it’s cocktail time somewhere inna world,” and Lolo handed him a Jack Daniel’s-on-the-rocks. Wally looked closely at his father-in-law, and the thought occurred how, in many respects, they were so similar—cut, as Betsy might say, from the same wheel of moldy Camembert. Lennie was bigger, more robust than life itself, more fragrant, rich and ripe, full of determined purpose, a master of his own fate, a show business icon simply because he wanted to be; and, notwithstanding his addiction to Jack Daniel’s, there was no other occupation, role, or avocation he could aspire to or would want. If destiny were the arbiter and organizer of all goals, Lennie, no matter how hard he tried or more solidly he might have struggled to fail, could have been nothing other than what he was: a tall, rugged personality with the uncanny ability to (from a distance) look like anybody he put his mind to—and at the same time, remain the athletic actor named Lennie McCarthur, even while fighting in bars, falling off horses, into snake pits, and out of burning buildings, engaging in a multitude of dangerous activity designed to make someone else look invincible (or nearly), while enjoying more alcoholic stimulant than necessary. The plane passed through sudden cumulus clouds, and a shadow darkened the interior for a few seconds. Wally’s glance shifted with the sliding sunlight, and he looked at Lolo sitting across the folding utility table from Lennie. My God, he thought, what an incredibly beautiful middle-aged woman she was! How resplendent she’s become, even in the space of five short years! If genes mattered, what gorgeous, delicate beauty he had to look forward to in Betsy, as one year piled on another! Lolo caught him staring at her, and she smiled that rich, warm, dimpled smile that had melted the hearts of romantic moviegoers for three decades. So like Betsy, a diminutive woman of sculptured poise and allure—from her long, dark brown hair, her high forehead and cheekbones and slightly pouting lips, to graceful legs supporting a trim, curving torso and abundant figure—Lolo was every inch a lady to be recognized and admired as one-of-a-kind and never for a moment, despite all Lennie did to diminish her, be taken for granted. The depth of her intelligence and savoir fare spoke in fervent tones of her profound being as a woman to be reckoned with. There obviously could never be another for Lennie—and vice versa. Wally shifted his gaze to Morris Nussbaum, the enigma of corporate geniuses whose swollen, pudgy palms possessed and held the very existence of so many people. NBC’s President of Entertainment. The magnitude of his position was mind-boggling. Few people looking at his balding, football-shaped dome, and his pasty, puffy cheeks and rubbery lips, might suspect that behind those dark and shifty eyes was a brain that knew more, had recorded and filed more of what exoteric ears and eyeballs wanted to hear and watch on their Philcos and Admirals, than could be stored in a warehouse of data at IBM. A permanent bachelor with a puissant position and astronomical income, Nussbaum could woo and possess for as long as he remained interested any number of delectable stars and starlets on two coasts. Unfortunately, for them, none currently appealed to him; he was quite happily married to his work and had every intention of remaining so, faithful to the end. Nussbaum was, Wally felt certain, in his, Wally’s, corner, and with the current project foremost on his mind; Nussbaum’s support and allegiance were critically necessary. Especially where NBC, MGM, the Mitchell estate, and Trent DeBrine were concerned . . . . Wally had to turn slightly to look at DeBrine, and when he did, the director glanced quickly at his young star, and then went back to the copy of Variety he had picked out from the rack at his side. In some ways, mused Wally, Trent was a more complex enigma than Morrie Nussbaum. Certainly trim, fit and handsome, perhaps more so than many of the stars he directed, DeBrine had the mysterious aura of a leading man no one wanted—which, of course, would not be true if he ever desired a place in front of the camera rather than behind or beside it. Wally thought to himself, what a perfect Rhett Butler he would make were it not for his feminine voice. But . . . his knowledge of movement and grace, his sense of theater, his eye for the nuances of lighting and color, and his ear for dialogue that required perfect pitch to enhance every scene, made him the director nonparallel for the project at hand. Unlike George Cukor who had started the original Gone With the Wind, Wally could think of no similar nor sensible reason he would ever have to replace him, as Selznick had had to do with Cukor, handing the duties over to Victor Fleming who subsequently had a nervous breakdown and finally died after the movie was finished, a death attributed by some such as Samuel Goldwyn as resulting from the stress of the assignment. No, DeBrine would not suffer that affliction, Wally was sure, provided everyone performed like the penultimate professionals they were: on time, prepared, and sober—ready to work. If DeBrine did succumb to the malady of anxiety or misgiving, he, Wally, would tell Nussbaum (or someone) to fire him. There were still a few Victor Flemings out there . . . . Of course, there was only one Trent DeBrine—as there was only one Betsy Rand, Lennie McCarthur, and Lolo Rand . . . Brando who?

“What’s so funny?” Betsy asked. “What’re you laughing about?”

“Was I laughing?”

“Yes. Out loud.”

“I was thinking about Trent. I was thinking what would happen if Morrie fired him.”

DeBrine looked at Wally over the top of Variety and the upper rim of the reading glasses perched on the tip of his nose. “Fire me from what?”

“Gone With the Wind.”

“Right. Hah! Gotta hire me first.”

“You’re hired . . . . Fire him, Morrie.”

DeBrine asked, bluntly, “How much you paying me to direct this dog?”

“A flat million. And another mill when it’s ready for release.”

“That’s too much,” Nussbaum said. “You’re fired. Wait a minute. I can’t fire you—Wally, you’re the producer!”

Wally shook his head. “No, you fire him. I’m too nice.”

DeBrine went back to Variety, and after a moment, Nussbaum asked, “Kidding aside, how do you see compensation playing out?”

Wally reached into his shirt pocket and withdrew more scraps of paper he had scribbled on during their last night at the Waldorf. “Well, here’s my breakdown, so far. Trent’s into the game for two million. Brando’s gonna cost us maybe ten, if we can get him. Betsy’s down for three. Lenny and Lolo for a mill each. I’ve set aside fifty thousand to a mill apiece for the rest of the principals, depending who they are and what I can get them for. Payroll should settle down at about eighteen to twenty million, all told, give or take.”

“Shoot,” Lennie snorted, “I know damn well Selznick’s whole budget didn’t come to that much!”

“Well, look what he got. And 1967 isn’t 1938.”

Betsy asked, feigning the sexiest pout Wally had ever seen, “How come Brando gets ten, and I get three?”

“Because,” Wally smiled, “you’re first name isn’t Marlon.”

“If that’s your benchmark, why don’t you call Marlon Perkins at Mutual of Omaha?”

“I would—only his first name is spelled M-a-r-l-i-n, not o-n.”

“Oh.”

Wally was amazed, as always, at Betsy’s intellectual resilience that so closely paralleled her physical qualities—amazed perpetually, how her beauty and poise seemed timeless, and how her concerned countenance helped her portray an interest in just about everything and everyone she came in contact with. At fourteen, she was perspicacious as well as cute; her eventual loveliness was poorly disguised beneath the shell of adolescence; now, at twenty-two, she was already in possession of a rare glamour and comeliness that grew more attractive as she matured—and yet, she was destined to remain plain and child-like as her talent continued to develop. Five years ago she was winning awards as a teenage comedic phenomenon on both TV and in the movies, and now she was getting set to play Paul Newman’s wife, mother to their troubled seventeen year old son, while she herself was half Newman’s age and just a couple years older than Ronnie Sevens, who was cast as the son. Wally gazed at her in wonderment and awe and realized that although she would never have the slick, fantasy-world beauty of, say, a Gene Tierney, she probably could have stolen the movie back from Lynn Bari in China Girl by requiring no extra make-up to appear Asian; she could virtually will the necessary changes in her eyes, mouth, and chin. Betsy would become one of only four remarkable actresses of the twentieth century—Merle Streep, Katharine Hepburn, Sally Field—with lasting qualities that would keep her les jeunes et recherché well into the 21st. Quietly, he reached down and took her hand.

For several minutes he looked across at his mother and father. Two words raced through his mind: plain and pedestrian. Doris Emerson was just plain—portly, porky, but plain. Nelson was just pedestrian. It was all either would ever be.

Wally sat still on the airplane and looked at his mother. She was sixty years old, her hair a mousy gray that hung loosely alongside her head, her face a bewildered bread pudding left too long in a poorly ventilated room, her squat body shapeless with rotund obesity, beset with etiolation, and her upper arms were frightening anti-blitz balloons that could easily have cracked walnuts against her bloated ribcage. It was her eyes, however, that everyone focused on, noticed, that everyone remembered. Her eyes were always flashing, sending signals on the hot, sharp edges of molten knives; their color may have been a deep hazel with flecks of green, but the combination produced a brilliant crimson that came at you like bullets of fire whenever she was angry or bemused. Wally supposed she had once been a classic beauty (why else would Nelson have courted her?) but now, in expensive, custom-cut clothes paid for by her son, she was a lump of maternal dependency and singular strength, and Wally knew she would live to be a hundred, or more. She adored Betsy, hoping for many grandchildren as soon as possible.

Nelson, on the other hand, was as spindly as Doris was roly-poly, and he adored her, though he would never admit it. She openly doted on Wally, their only child, and had from the day he was born. In his ogling fantasy, Wally tried to imagine how they’d be cast if, in the most unlikely turn of events, they ever decided to become actors: Ichabod Crane and Mrs. Bumble were the best he could come up with on short notice.

Doris looked at her son and asked, “Are you really going to have enough money to make a brand new movie outta Gone With the Wind?” Wally thought to himself, what a strange thing for her to ask! He unfastened his seatbelt and stood up, retrieving his briefcase from the shallow bin above his head. Sitting down again, he balanced the cowhide container on his lap and opened it, withdrawing a hand full of papers. “You know what these are?” His mother shook her head, and her short curls danced a frenzied tango in the rarified air of 28,000 feet. “These are markers.”

“Markers?”

“Yeah. These are commitments, guarantees, from dozens of people at the party last night. They total nearly forty-five million dollars. And they’re just the beginning.”

Doris looked perplexed. “Are they promises—you know, commitments you, they, can renege on?”

“Yes. Sure. But they are all from people whose word is their bond. They’re as good as promises. Look.” He indicated a pile of papers clipped together and began handing them across the aisle. “These are from Morrie Nussbaum—for two million.” He removed the paper clip and rifled through them. “Here’s one from Walter Young, personally committing himself, the Sarnoffs, the network, and others for twenty million dollars. This one was handed to me by Ed McMahon—from Johnny Carson and his entire production company—five million. Add up the rest, and we’ve already got over forty million.”

Nussbaum called out from his seat by the cockpit door. “Did I really offer you two million?”

“Yes, you sure did.”

“Shoot . . . . Lennie, let me have one of those Jack Daniel things.”

Wally placed the slips of paper back in the briefcase, closed the lid, and handed the case across to his mother. He made a snap decision. “Here. I want you to take care of all this. The only guarantee we made is, if the deal falls through and we dump the whole idea, we tear up the markers and return any monies collected. Mom, I want you to take care of all this. ”

“Me? What do you—want me to take care of?”

“Collections, disbursements, you know. I want to hire you to handle all the financial affairs of our new company. The Wind, Incorporated. I’m appointing you treasurer. If I’m the president, you’re the treasurer. You already make five hundred a week at Emerson Market. I’ll pay you an additional thousand.”

“Me?” Doris repeated.

“Makes sense,” Betsy said. Everyone, for some reason, looked at Lolo, who quickly said, “I agree. Doris, you’re the only honest person of the bunch!”

“Shoot!” Lennie piped in. “What about me?”

Nussbaum laughed aloud. “Shoot is exactly what I’d suggest we’d all do to ourselves in your case! I nominate Doris treasurer of this debacle.”

“I second it,” DeBrine threw out.

“Carried,” Lolo affirmed.

Nelson was mystified by all of it. “What about the store? Who’s gonna run my office?”

“Not to worry,” Doris assured him. “I can do both.”

“I hope not,” Wally murmured under his breath. The spontaneous idea of turning the subscriptions and collection matters over to Doris was, Betsy later stated, a stroke of genius on Wally’s part. Unblemished by any Hollywood or New York loyalties or insider positioning, Doris was the perfect choice to finalize and gather commitments made by icons and corporate leaders. When Doris, displaying no preconceived idolatry or timidity borne out of fanatic devotion (except to Wally,) said, “Gimme!” CEOs, general managers, corporate potentates, actors, musicians, writers, directors, producers, moguls of every stripe—all of them—went for their checkbooks, if for no other reason than to get the chubby lady with eyes of brimstone out of their hair. Only one reneging investor would balk at fulfilling his commitment and try to weasel out, and that was Mel Hoyt, the nationally syndicated celebrity talk-show host, who said he would give Mrs. Emerson a choice: either five hundred thousand dollars payable in equal annual installments over five years, starting with a hundred thousand today—or nothing. Doris nodded and asked if she could use his phone; she needed to make a long distance call. “Of course,” Hoyt said. “Who you calling—your goofy kid?”

“No. He’s too busy for this kind of nonsense. I’d like to call Larry King in Miami. May I? This is his kinda story.” She left Hoyt’s San Francisco office with a check for five holus-bolus shares of The Wind, Inc.

As soon as the plane landed in Los Angeles, Wally, in the back of the Bentley, used the car phone to call Orin Farmer, giving him a green light to muster his staff of writers and begin formulating a new script for Gone With the Wind. Farmer, who had flown home on Eastern with his staff the day before, was astounded: “Good lord, you’ve got copyright clearances and carte blanche from the Mitchell people and MGM—and everyone?”

“No. Nobody,” Wally said. “Morris Nussbaum and I are supposed to get with MGM tomorrow, and I’m setting up a meeting with the others in Atlanta later this week.”

“Right. Good-bye, Wally. Call me back when you get the permissions in writing . . .”

“Hold on—don’t hang up, Orin. Have a little faith—show some backbone. This thing’s gonna fly, I promise you. I got almost fifty million from the high rollers in New York. Just get your guys together and start laying out some scenes, some dialogue.”

“Shit, man, I haven’t read the book since after the war. I only saw the movie once—New Year’s Eve, 1939, with my old man, I was eight years old, for God’s sake, it was four goddamn hours long, damn near thirty fuckin’ years ago!”

“I’ll have Trent DeBrine send over some reels of the film.”

“Where’s he gonna get’m?”

“I don’t know. MGM archives—or Warner’s, I don’t know. I’ll call you back after we see the people at MGM.”

“Were any of them at the wing-ding in New York? I didn’t see any.”

“Yeah, some were there.”

“Any of them put up any dough?”

“. . . no.”

“How’m I and my guys supposed to get paid?”

“For chrissake, Orin, you’re still on salary from Rusted Spurs, am I right about that?—till year’s end—pending renewal?—which isn’t gonna happen. You’ll all get at least Guild minimums after that until the new movie’s a definite go. Right?

“Right. . . .What a deal. . . .Call me back after you meet with MGM.” (Click.)

19

From the front it was deceptive. Parking spaces were scattered in the street extending from the façade, rather than from behind, and there was no way to tell the pentagon shape was purposely designed to make the same square footage available on a single floor without having to go up four of five stories, or from what the basic plan might have involved. Inside, the configuration, on a much smaller scale, was reminiscent of the huge government building just outside Washington, from which it was modeled while Louie B. Mayer was in charge. Five sides and five ‘rings’, a courtyard café in the center with tables and benches, shade trees and meticulous landscaping: breakfasts, lunches, and dinners available five days a week from of its own catering service, a well-stocked and manned bar open every day from 3:30 to 11 pm—all courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. And all one had to be was an employee, a guest, or on loan from another studio.

“Want something to drink?” Nate Oppenheimer asked. Wally shook his head and looked closely at the young man across from him, his dark, angular face already needing a shave, shaded by the huge ‘lion logo’ umbrella thrust upward from a hole in the center of the table, protecting them from the fierce midday sun. “Man, it’s fuckin’ hot,” Oppenheimer said, and Wally concurred by nodding several times as if he could create a breeze that might cool him off. “Maybe a Coke or something?” Oppenheimer turned in his chair and snapped his fingers at a young waiter near the bar. “Fella, bring us a couple Cokes!” he commanded, and Wally thought his voice was moderately rough, impolite, and unnecessarily irritating. “Fucking college kids. Lucky they got a job.” Wally wondered how much older Oppenheimer was than the waiter who diligently dodged behind the bar to confiscate two glasses with ice and ‘a couple Cokes.’

Nate Oppenheimer was on the MGM staff of attorneys housed in the Administration Building at the studio’s Culver City headquarters. His office was in the ‘E Ring’ along with twelve other offices; chrome, leather, and glass conference rooms were set aside for the legal team, a plethora of specialists under the aegis of Karl Dellacore, MGM’s chief corporate council. The Oppenheimer forte was ‘Acquisitions and Covenants’—hence, he was the man Wally needed to start with, despite the attorney having still been an undergraduate student at USC when L. B. Mayer died ten year ago. Wally found this out merely by asking Oppenheimer if he’d ever met Mr. Mayer. “Nope,” Oppenheimer admitted indifferently, “he was long gone before I even got to law school. I came here in ’64, practically right after I passed the bar—but it’s like being in on the ground floor—Ed Bronfman’s in the process of buying this place, and I’m one of five or six guys on the negotiating team. You know Bronfman, right?” Wally admitted he’d never heard of him. “Yeah, well, right . . . he’s the Canadian version of a Rockefeller. Anyway, the influx of new, foreign money will make all the difference in the world in this place. . . . So, why’re we here? Dellacore tells me you wanna re-make Gone With the Wind.” Wally said that was correct. “Ain’t never gonna happen,” Oppenheimer chuckled as the Cokes arrived.

There was something about Nate Oppenheimer that rankled Wally from their first handshake, a moist tissue exercise that Wally found distasteful; he quickly took his hand back and placed it in his pocket, wiping his palm against the inside of the pocket, against his leg. “Let’s go outside in the courtyard and get something to drink,” Oppenheimer suggested shortly after the actor had been shown in, and Wally, enjoying the air-conditioning, looked pensively at the deep leather chairs in his host’s spacious, well-appointed office. “It’s a lot nicer out there,” Oppenheimer assured him, taking his elbow and steering him into the wide corridor. A moment later they had passed through the five archways exiting each ‘ring’ and escaped into the humid, depressing afternoon sun. It is not, Wally thought, a lot nicer out here. It’s like Buffalo for sixteen canicular days in August, for God’s sake. . . .He noticed how cool and pleasant Oppenheimer smelled. “If you don’t mind my asking, what’s that cologne you wear?” The attorney sniffed the air as if he alone were encapsulated in an aura of delightful effluvium and said, “Snot a cologne. Toilet water, some French crap my girlfriend gave me: Tunisia Temptations. Like it? Supposed to make you think of lilacs. Does it?” Wally said it did. “Why do you say,” he added, “my re-make of Gone With the Wind won’t happen?”

Oppenheimer, one of those gritty, dusky young men who have to shave two or three times a day, ran his hand over the black stubble on his chin. Wally did not consider him unattractive, his bilious manner notwithstanding, but he presented that annoying air of supercilious insensitivity well educated, successful professionals seemed to cultivate deliberately to keep lesser contacts and colleagues in their places. His ebony hair, parted almost in the middle, was expensively cut, trimmed to corporate neatness that said nonsense—or failure—would not be tolerated; his gleaming sport shirt, untucked and outside his pants, long-sleeved, tight at the wrists but billowing slightly at the elbows with an Aloha hint of frequent travel to Polynesia, was frigid with expectations of casual banter, and his linen-light flannel trousers showed pressed creases and pleats that, turned inside out, would shred both legs were he to suddenly break into The Frug.

“It just won’t,” he off-handedly replied.

“Why not?”

“Shit, man, I don’t know. . . . Cokes taste great, don’t they? You want some rum in yours?”

“No—thanks.”

Oppenheimer turned again and signaled to the waiter. “Can I get some rum over here, son? See if there’s any Sea Wynde back there—if not, Mount Gay will do. . . .” He twisted in his seat toward Wally. “Re-makes are a pain in the ass. Jeez, I loved that Rusted Spurs show—you knocked me out. And besides, you’ll never get permission from the Mitchell people. Far as we’re concerned, all we own is the original film. We show it on TV from time to time and the networks pay a bundle. . . . I think maybe Warner’s got a piece of it, I don’t know. Your wife stole the show, if you don’t mind my saying. What a doll. . . . Re-makes just don’t do it for us anymore. We made a shitload of money on Ben-Hur—even with Charlton Heston, for God’s sake—but we lost our ass on Cimarron, King of Kings, the Four Assholes of the Apocalypse, and Mutiny on the Bounty—I told Dellacore we should take Brando up on his offer to buy the negatives for five mill so he could burn them—we’d at least retrieve a couple bucks. How’s your wife’s old man doing? Tough break Mahoney fucked him all up.”

“He’s fine, doing okay. It wasn’t Mahoney’s fault. . . . Listen, you guys cleaned up on How the West Was Won,” Wally reminded him.

“Yeah, well, in a way you’re right. But that was not a re-make—it was in Cinerama and starred every breathing, fucking actor in Hollywood. The fucking production costs damned near buried us. . . .You guys shoulda sued the ass off us and NBC. McCarthur really got hosed. . . . .Yeah, we did okay with How the West Was Won, but we try to make just one big budget colossus a year, and that one turned out to be a bigger mistake than letting David Lean on the lot.”

Wally put down his Coke. “I don’t see how you can say that, after Dr. Zhivago.”

“You would if you saw what he’s working on now—Robert Mitchum with a brogue, and John Mills with spittle running down his chin and gumming his lower lip. He calls it Ryan’s Daughter, but it looks like Madame Bovary to me. He’s got most of it in the can—it’s nearly all shot in Ireland, but knowing Lean, he’ll take three years to cut it before it makes a fucking dime—if it ever does. . . . What’s McCarthur gonna do if he can’t handle stunts and doublin’? . . . And then you come along with some hair-brained scheme to re-make Gone With the Wind! Man, spare me!”

Wally remembered something Huffner Denton told him many years ago about closing a deal: Kid, you wanna make a deal with some shit who can’t see the forest for the rainbows, just find his ‘hot button.’ And when you do, don’t just push it—smash it with your fist! Then when you got’m where you want’m, shut your mouth. Don’t say another word. The first one to speak loses.

Wally looked closely at Nate Oppenheimer and thought if Betsy ever gets pregnant with a son, they’d drown him if he might grow up to be an asshole like this guy. . . . The Hot Button: “You know, Nate, MGM could make enough money off my new Gone With the Wind to carry it into the next century. And make you their biggest hero since Dore Schary.”

Oppenheimer eyed Wally suspiciously. “Yeah? How?”

“Let me produce it here and in Georgia. Give me carte blanche with studio space for interiors, all the cameras and equipment, processing darkrooms, viewing rooms, cutting rooms, props, art direction and costumes, trailers, offices for my staff and access to yours, ancillary staff . . .”

“How much you willing to pay?”

“Nothing. Gratis. Like the lion says: ‘Ars Gratia Artis’.”

“You fuckin’ nuts?. . . . How about script and cast approvals?”

“No way. Just exclusive distribution rights. No investment, no cash.”

Oppenheimer sucked his lips. “Distribution . . . promotion? . . .”

Wally shook his head. “No promotion. We do it all.”

“Production credit?”

“Not a word. A Trent DeBrine Film, Produced by The Wind Studios. ExecutiveProducer, Wally Emerson . . .”

“No deal.”

“ . . . in Association with MGM, Distributors.”

“I—don’t know.” Oppenheimer grimaced, but this time he did not pucker his lips. The two men, in the shade of the wide umbrella, stared at each other and simultaneously picked up their glasses of Coke; Oppenheimer sniffed at his, inhaling the faint scent of rum; Wally shook his slightly, stirring the rapidly melting ice and hearing the tinkle of cubes bouncing off the sides. It was over a hundred degrees in the courtyard, and there were tiny beads of sweat on Oppenheimer’s forehead Wally hadn’t noticed before. The attorney spoke first . . .

“The movie’s any good, distribution could be a gold mine. . . . If, by some miracle, you get past the Mitchell people—shit, who knows?—might be a plan. . . . Lemme run it by Dellacore.”

Morris Nussbaum was miffed. From his cottage at the Beverly Hills Hotel he spoke to Wally on the telephone after the young actor had finished his meeting with Nate Oppenheimer. “Thanks a bunch for at least keeping me in the loop. Why didn’t you wait and let me handle MGM?”

“No need, Morrie. Dellacore’s outta town, and Oppenheimer said to come right out. I tried to call you—lemme tell you where we stand . . .” When he finished, Nussbaum said, “Next time you can’t reach me, try harder. You better hope Dellacore thinks more of Oppenheimer than you do.”

Wally took the reprimand in stride. “Okay. . . . Guy’s a prick.”

“May be. But . . . he’s the sort of prick you don’t want to get screwed by.”

Despite the unseasonably hot weather, Bar Amateurs was a contemplative place to walk and wander after a full Sunday meal of T-bone steaks, mushrooms and baked potatoes, and iced tea. The paths from the ranch house went in three directions—one to the barns where the horses were kept—a gray splotched mare for Lolo, a robust auburn stallion Lennie used to ride regularly but now left to Robert to workout; a demure and slim filly for Betsy, and a sad but enthusiastically docile Palomino that Wally occasionally mounted. The second path went down a gradual slope past the pool and cabanas to the large corral, and one more slash of gravel, off to the left, bypassed the pool and skirted the corral, eventually disappearing into acres of woods and hidden gardens that Betsy, as a small child, had believed were haunted with ghosts, witches, wild animals, trees that could talk and whose branches could be transformed into legs that danced and arms that would snatch up small children and devour them. Lennie always told her that’s where leaves came from: “each leaf you see up there is a lil ol’ kid who’d snuck off alone inta the woods and gotten eaten by a tree. The rustlin’ of those leaves when the wind comes up ain’t rustlin’ atall—it’s them kids cryin’ for their mothers!” The creeks and streams that ran haphazardly through the woods were actually the “tears of those kids gushin’ out when they figured out their moms weren’t never comin’ for’em!”

“And you believed all that?” Wally asked her, taking her hand as they stepped on fallen logs to cross a narrow stream.

Betsy giggled a melodious staccato of breath. “Sure! Kept me out of the woods! Lennie can be a fascinating storyteller! He ever tell you how he used to drop bulls in Oklahoma by biting on their lower lips?”

“Yeah.”

“Don’t believe a word of it. Pure bull-lip.”

They found a shady spot—no difficulty in a thick forest crammed with tall trees—at the edge of a winding creek that sang cool, moist songs about beneficial, shallow water trickling rapidly over random stones no larger than croquet balls. The grass there was soft and lush, and they sat down with their backs against a thick, ancient oak. Not that they’d kept track, but they were nearly a half-mile from the ranch house. The weather was what the TV meteorologists called California Classic . . . cloudless cobalt skies, sunshine reading at least f.32, and a slight breeze that beckoned names like butterfly breath, marigold movers, willow whisperers, and lazy luffs.

“Are those phrases you ever used on TV?” Betsy asked.

“Y’kidding? In Buffalo? I said stuff like ‘grinding gales’ in the winter and ‘humid hurricanes’ in summer.”

Betsy laughed at that. “You never did.”

“You’re right. . . . But the way you said ‘never did’ . . . say it again. Like with a Southern accent.”

“Nevah dye-id.”

“Perfect. That’s just the way Scarlett O’Hara would say it.”

“She nevah woo-id.”

“Perfect. File that away.”

Morris Nussbaum’s misgivings aside, Karl Dellacore and MGM, as everyone expected, gave Wally and The Wind, Inc. the go ahead to negotiate with the Mitchell estate. Lennie had been quick to point out, “Why the hell not? They got nuthin to lose an’ ever’thing tuh gain. Shoot, givin’em exclusive distribution rights is like handin’em a blank check for ten billion dollars!”

“Well,” Nussbaum said, cutting into his rare T-bone, “not quite—but damn near. When you figure what we save in production costs, what we lose on distribution is a drop in the proverbial bucket. Let’s say Wally ever gets the picture made—or I should say, re-made—MGM stands to rake in about two million in the first few weeks of release. They’ll be able to charge premium admission rates worldwide. In five years they should see ticket sales netting them a cool hundred million—if the picture is any good, and if any of the networks pick it up as a special—frankly, I can see NBC doing it as a four-part miniseries annually for at least . . . I don’t know how long. The deal with MGM could be our own homegrown bonanza. They get the cream to skim off the gross for distribution, but they still got to declare dividends to the stockholders—while we hang on to the profits. And all it’s going to cost MGM is no cash up front for a one-time production deal. Cripes, I think Wally even told them he’d pay for the film!”

Lolo looked at Wally down the length of the dinner table. “Did you?” she asked. “Did you throw in the negative?”

Wally, his mouth full of steak, nodded.

“Shoot,” Lennie grimaced, “you know how much that stuff costs? Whaddya gonna do, shoot it on eight millimeter drug store reels?”

Wally swallowed and laughed. “Yeah, maybe! . . . No, I’m thinking maybe seventy millimeter Panavision—in Eastman Kodachrome, rather than Technicolor. . . . Whaddaya think, Morrie?”

Nussbaum started to answer, but Trent DeBrine beat him to it. “Panavision cameras gotta be rented, and I suspect Dellacore knows that. It’s not cheap, but if you really throw in film costs, it’s still a bargain. You can probably negotiate processing in with the purchasing, and if MGM pays to rent the cameras, we can save a couple hundred grand. Assuming we can shoot the whole thing in under a year. . . . Can we?”

Wally’s shoulders replied with a spastic uncertainty. “I dunno. You’re the director.”

“Yeah . . . but you’re the producer.”

“So?”

Nussbaum pushed his cleaned plate an inch or two forward. “Couple of cinematic geniuses . . . . I’ll put it I plain English: you don’t shoot it in a year, MGM’s gonna pull out—and when they do, NBC and me and everybody at 30 Rock goes with’m. And you better be prepared to give back every cent you haven’t spent—and then some.”

Wally laughed lightly at that. “We don’t even have a single signature of approval from the Mitchell people, and already you’re setting deadlines!”

In the woods Betsy snuggled closer to Wally against the thick oak tree, and he leaned four inches to his right, tilted her face toward his, and kissed her, gently at first, then more roughly, more deeply. “I love you very much,” he said. “The only reason I want to pull this Gone With the Wind thing off is for you. For me, I couldn’t care less.”

“Right,” Betsy smiled. “But don’t snow the Snow Queen. You’d better want it as much for yourself as you do for me. If you don’t—I mean, really don’t—you might as well give all those people their money back right now. It’ll never work. If you start it, then blow it, you’ll find getting a job out here as a best boy will be your next lucky break.”

“If it goes south—well, I’ll re-make Casablanca. You can be Ilsa Lund, I’ll play Victor Laszlo, Lennie can be Louie Renault in a wheelchair, and Bogart can be Bogart again as Rick Blaine. I can see it now—Bogie pushing Lennie’s wheelchair through the mist, right in front of Ilsa and Victor’s airplane: ‘might the beginning of a beautiful but short friendship!’”

Betsy laughed at that, but her heart wasn’t in it. “Seriously, when are you going to see the Mitchell people?”

He told her tomorrow. “Morrie and I plan on flying to Atlanta tomorrow. Wanna go?”

“I can’t. Rehearsals start Wednesday. Newman’s flying in from Connecticut tomorrow. . . . You actually have an appointment with the Mitchell—”

“No . . . not to worry. I didn’t have an appointment at MGM, either. One phone call. Why should Atlanta be any different?”

“You’re flying all the way to Atlanta and no one to talk to . . . ?”

“Right.”

“Man . . .” Betsy turned to him again and he kissed her again. “You got big ones . . . ”

“You have no idea.” He looked around at the dense enclosure of foliage. “Wanna get naked?”

20

Atlanta’s Charlie Brown airport, just west of the city, was ideal for corporate aircraft such as NBC’s Learjet 23. Its longest runway was slightly less than 6,000 feet, an asphalt strip running pretty much east and west, enough so that barring unusually high winds a small passenger jet would have no trouble dropping in from a near normal glide path, and use no more than half the runway. Such was the case when Wally and Morris Nussbaum arrived at approximately 4 PM that Monday in March.

The co-pilot, James Harwood, logged ‘wheels-up’ at 8:16 AM, PST, and less than four hours later, the captain, Leigh Sarrote, made a feather landing and slammed the engines into reverse, bringing the glistening ship to less than one knot before turning into taxiway 14. A moment before they stopped on the tarmac in front of their temporary hanger Nussbaum was on the sky phone with general manager Mark Walsh at WXIA, the network’s Atlanta affiliate. “I didn’t think you were coming in until Wednesday or Thursday, Morrie. I can, I think I can, get you with Roy Zessack—”

“Who’s he?”

“Uh, the attorney—the council for the Mitchell estate. . . . You alone?”

“No. Wally Emerson’s with me.”

“Jesus! Wow! Can you bring him by the station? We should do some interviews—some promotion . . . ”

“Maybe tomorrow. Can you set up a meeting with—whassis name? ”

“Zessack?”

‘Yeah. Today.”

“Today? It’s—uh—four o’clock.”

”So? Atlanta shut down for tea?”

A stretch limo and driver were waiting for them when they deplaned. Wally asked where they were going. Nussbaum replied, “Walsh said they’d meet us at the old Margaret Mitchell apartment.” He turned to the driver, who was loading their two suitcases into the limo’s trunk. “You know where that is?” The driver, a huge black man named Oliver, overweight, sweating and bulging in black suit and plastic bowtie, grunted. “Ugah, yeah, hugga! Some-air rown Ten an’ Pee-tree.” Nussbaum nodded: “Wherever.”

Once they left the airport and turned east on Route 20 toward the city, Wally inquired, “This Margaret Mitchell place—that where she lived?” Nussbaum shook his head. “I dunno. I don’t think so, not for very long. I think it’s where she and her husband, John Marsh, had an apartment when she was writing her book. Place’s in pretty bad shape, from what I hear. Mitchell called it ‘the Dump’. Lotsa Georgia Tech students live around there now, and the place is called the Crescent Apartments, or something like that.” Wally wondered why the lawyer Zessack wanted to meet there. “Dunno. I think he has an office nearby and thinks we’ll get a—I dunno—flavor of the lady, I s’pose, if we meet there. Maybe his own office is a dump and meeting with us in Mitchell’s old dump is the better part of valor. You know, Atlanta’s not exactly Beverly Hills. . . . I really don’t know.”

Wally turned away and looked out the window as his first glimpse of agrarian Georgia sped by. There was not a great deal of traffic, and both sides of the broad road gave way to undulating farmland and fields of crops—barley and wheat, some tomatoes and onions, patches of corn and rows of cotton, plus other areas that might have been peanuts or tobacco—exotic plants that were alien to him. Far off in the distant north were low hills, the bulbous beginnings to growing mountains that appeared hazy and lush; but here, along the western perimeter of this insouciant city, few cars moved quickly either to or from, unaware that within a decade or two, traffic bottlenecks would destroy the infrastructure as an unexpected population explosion would strangle its egress and ingress. For now, however, driving from Charlie Brown Airport into the heart of Atlanta was no more difficult than going into downtown Buffalo by way of Delaware Avenue. It was still March, but the sun was warm and bright; there were no traces of dirty snow mounds or filthy slush piled against the road’s shoulders, and Wally thought how kind and beautiful the South truly was. “Know something?” he said, without looking back at Nussbaum. “Whassat?” Something was missing; something he knew that was indigenous to Western New York. “There are no potholes.” He was right. The road was smooth—it was fairly straight and remarkably smooth. “Yes,” Nussbaum agreed. “Even better than L.A.” As they came closer to the city limits, the traffic increased, but it was barely noticeable.

Once inside the sprawling city, having left Route 20 and drifting slightly north, the driver turned and spoke over his shoulder. “We loss.” He turned left into Spring Street. “Pee-tree uppeh sumplay.”

Morris Nussbaum sighed and leaned back further into the deep leather of the Cadillac’s rear compartment. Wally picked up the telephone at his side, but there was no dial tone.

“Mow Pee-trees down heah’nay gah horses’n Tucky,” the driver said. “Doan be scare. Gone fine hit.”

“What’d he say?” Wally asked Nussbaum.

“I dunno.”

Eventually they worked their way over from Spring Street to Peachtree Street NW, then further to Peachtree Street NE—then lost again until they came to 10th Street where the driver turned left until he spotted Peachtree Walk, made a U-turn and came back to Peachtree NE, turned right, looked right, and said, “Dare is!” And there it was: the Crescent Apartments. Roy Zessack was standing on the porch, waiting for them, and he was nothing like either Wally or Nussbaum had imagined.

Roy Zessack was six feet, seven inches tall, weighed easily 280 pounds, and at the age of thirty possessed less than two inches of body fat under a straining beige corduroy sports jacket that barley covered his black sweater boasting a glaring red G. Nussbaum and Wally had no way of knowing they were in the presence of the 1957 All-American halfback who had played alongside the immortal fullback “Thundering’” Theron Sapp, the “Drought-Breaker,” for the University of Georgia Bulldogs. “Hi, I’m Roy Zessack!” the lawyer exclaimed, bounding down the steps and offering a huge hand to the two visitors. “Glad you found ‘the Dump’—this is it, where they say Margaret made it all up. Inspirational, eh?” Wally started to say “Awe-inspiring,” but he thought better of it. “Mark Walsh was supposed to be here as well,” Zessack apologized, “ but he got tied up at the station and told me to meet with y’all—he said he’d be over in a while. . . . Safe to assume you’d rather meet at my office, but it’s a zoo over there—just down Peachtree, to be exact—but the AC’s out, and the place is a mess. Dellacore said you’d be in on Friday, but Monday, today’s, okay by me. Come on in. The Marshes had apartment number one, Numero Uno, and far as I know, it’s empty. How was your flight?”

Inside, the Crescent Apartments smelled like Death lived there and cooked small animals in an open fireplace. The odor was not one commonly encountered, and for a moment the West Coast visitors were at a loss to pin it down. It was the kind of an aroma that sneaked uninvited between tightly closed lips, having already made its way into the lower membranes of one’s nostrils, and there was an instinctive reaction to lick one’s lips and perhaps eradicate the gritty mellifluence. This turned out to be a mistake that only acerbated the gagging that often followed. “Narcotics,” Zessack said. “Tech students are master apothecaries. Atlanta vice squad raids this place every weekend. Does no good. In fact, most of the police sell the stuff they confiscate here down in South Atlanta and over on Auburn Ave. This place is like a factory. Most of the kids don’t use enough of the stuff to make a dent, but the proceeds pay most of their tuitions—at least the ones not on scholarships, which ain’t many nowadays, I can tell ya. . . . Here we go.”

The door to apartment Numero Uno was not locked. Zessack ushered them into the vestibule, which led to what was undoubtedly the combination living/dining room. Furniture, some of which might have been original, was still there, scattered remnants of an early nineteenth century affluence that might have been better preserved under protective sheets of muslin: a long sofa with wicker back, two or three stuffed arm chairs, end tables with stained-glass lamps—and a dining table of heavy oak, surrounded by eight carved chairs in remarkably good condition. There were two chandeliers, one a brass four-bulb-shaded-octopus above the living room, and another that might have been Waterford (it wasn’t) above the dining table; both had been spared more than a minimal amount of cobwebs. There were faded Orientals on the floor, and thick drapes guarded the tall leaded windows; the wallpaper, grimy and faded worse than the rugs, boasted huge chrysanthemums in a yellow forest of hideously oversized vines and ivies. Zessack shrugged: “I know what you’re thinking—but in 1925, when the place was called Windsor Apartments, the Marshes paid about fifteen dollars a month rent, and this is where you wanted to be. Marsh was a fledgling adman and editor at Georgia Power, and Peggy was a writer for the Atlanta Journal, our local fish-wrapper. In fact, they say she sat right over there, by the windows, and wrote most of Gone With the Wind on an old Remington her husband had given her.” Wally and Nussbaum glanced in the direction of the leaded windows through which fading light still penetrated and paid silent obeisance. Zessack flicked a switch on the wall, and the dining room chandelier came alive. “Pull up a chair,” he said, gesturing toward the dining room table; “Sit down. Let’s talk.”

Council to the Mitchell estate positioned himself at the head of the table, while Wally and Nussbaum sat across from each other. “I’m glad we were able to come here today,” the attorney admitted. “I’m glad you’re able to see this place. They’re going to tear it down soon and either make a high-rise condo out of it with a strip of shops and eateries, or an office complex, I’m not really sure. They’ve already built a shopping mall—Ansley Mall—down the street, so this whole area of midtown Atlanta is changing. This will be prime property for commercial and/or office space.”

Nussbaum made a “tsk, tsk” sound, and Wally said, “Pity. They did the same thing in Buffalo, all along Edgewood and Delaware Avenues. Almost took an act of congress to save the house where McKinley got shot on the porch. Anyway . . . ”

“Anyway . . .” Zessack spread his hands on the table in front of him, and Nussbaum noticed the bejeweled ring on his right third finger. “That a Super Bowl ring?” he asked. Zessack glanced down at it. “No, fraid not. University of Georgia.” He looked at Wally. “Before you ask—nope, I never played against Ernie Davis. He went to Syracuse the year I graduated, and he didn’t play until his sophomore year. Besides, we’re in the SEC and Syracuse is in the Big East. Neither one of us ever played in a pro game; Davis got sick and died, and I went to law school at U.G.A. . . . Maybe it should have been the other way around. Anyway . . . ”

Wally, to break the ice, said, “You know why we’re here . . .”

“Yeah, Dellacore filled me in. . . . By the way, I never miss Rusted Spurs—you do a great job, I love that character, Freddie Lassiter—is it for certain this is the last season?” Wally nodded and said that was correct. “Your dad,” Zessack went on, “is unbelievable. How’s he doing since his accident? Your wife, Betsy Rand, knocks me out. Dellacore says she’s going to play Scarlett O’Hara if, if—if—you know, if we can make a deal with the, uh, Mitchell people. I doubt if we can. . . . I personally think it’s a great idea, though, but Christ, there’s gotta be a lot of, you know, stumbling blocks—things in the way . . .”

“Like what?”

“Well, like the whole Mitchell estate, for one thing. There’s at least a half dozen relatives scattered around the country who have a piece of the action—maybe more. . . . How much you willing to pay them? And what’re you willing to pay them for?” Wally held up his hand and formed a ‘zero’ with his thumb and forefinger. “Nothing? Hah! You kidding? You gotta be kidding . . .”

“All I want is for them to waive the copyright to the title. I want to call it Gone With the Wind—not the Sequel or Part Two or Revisited or any of that stuff. Just plain Gone With the Wind.”

Zessack leaned back in his chair. “Mr. Emerson—may I call you Wally? . . . It’s more complicated than that. There is no copyright on the title—you can’t copyright a title, whether it’s a book or a song, or even a person’s nickname. Those things can be, however, protected as a registered ‘trademark’—and that’s exactly what Gone With the Wind is—a trademark. What that means is, if you use it without the permission of the people, or entity that the trademark is registered to, who actually own the trademark, they can sue you and the court can toss you in jail or, at the least, fine you a zillion dollars. Which I’m sure they will.”

Wally inserted, “But Mrs. Mitchell sold the rights to the book to David Selznick—’

“Right. Yeah. The book.”

“And Selznick sold it to MGM. And MGM is giving me carte blanche to make my movie.”

“Hmmm . . .” Zessack tapped his fingers on the table. “So, you’d make the movie exactly the same as Selznick’s, same script, same plot, same name and characters, just different sets and actors? Right?”

“Wrong.”

Zessack leaned forward and looked hard at Wally. “Wrong?”

“Why would I want a movie just like the one you got now?”

“What’s wrong with it?”

“Everything.”

Nussbaum added, cautiously: “Just about.”

The three of them sat in silence around Margaret Mitchell’s old dining room table and looked at each other without saying a word. Outside, on the streets of Atlanta, people came and people went, milling about, driving up and down 10th Street and the various Peachtree Streets, and only three people in this part of the world were thinking about Scarlett O’Hara, Rhett Butler, the Old South, the Civil War, the Confederacy, the Union—or even Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee. Nobody, not even in the rest of Margaret Mitchell’s dilapidated apartment house, was thinking about Gone With the Wind, the dusty old book, or the gradually fading Technicolor movie: Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Leslie Howard, Olivia de Havilland, Thomas Mitchell, Hattie McDaniel, or even Butterfly McQueen. Wally Emerson was thinking about Betsy Rand as Scarlett, Brando as Butler, Terry Powell as Ashley Wilkes, and Lennie McCarthur as O’Hara. Morris Nussbaum was thinking of tremendous advertising dollars flying into NBC’s coffers. Roy Zessack was thinking how he could ever, in a million years, get the Mitchell estate to say okay and give up the book’s trademark title—and for how much.

“I’m not saying,” Zessack said, “they won’t let you use the title for your picture, but, shit, man, they’re not going to just hand it over for nothing. Maybe script approval—”

Wally shook his head.

“Cast approval—”

“No.”

“Money . . .”

“Get real.”

Zessack pushed his chair back and stood up. Wally and Nussbaum quietly watched him walk about the apartment. He stopped twice: once to look pensively out the window, and once to pick up and examine knickknacks from one of the casual tables. Expectantly, he became philosophical, and his voice was soft and distant, as though he were addressing a jury in a hopelessly deadlocked civil case. “You know,” he said, employing the standard opening ‘when I was a kid’ everyone used when they were thoroughly unsure what they were talking about or what they would say next, “when I was a kid—when, uh, I was playing football at UGA, ‘Thunderin’ Sapp would sometimes take off his helmet in the huddle, like maybe he wasn’t even going to play anymore—and he’d spit on the ground and tell the quarterback—whose name, by the way, was Tarkenton—you fellas probably never heard of him—” at which Zessack abruptly chuckled—“he told him, hell, we never lost a game all that season, we were losing now because all Tarkenton wanted to do was throw passes like Howitzer shells, and Sapp’d say, ‘Look, the only way we gonna get some points onna board is, run right over them dumb bastards, step on their face, break his nose, squash his balls, an’ get inta the end zone. You guys up front gotta make a hole big enough for ol’ Zessack here’r me to run through, and then you gotta get off your ass an’ make sure them four guys in the secondary is crippled for life. We gonna line up like I’m takin’ it wide through the flat, but, Fran, y’all gonna hand it off to ol’ Zessack here, an’ he better have nuthin but daylight out fronta him, or they’s gonna dump his ass. So, jus’ shut up your freshman mouth an’ do like I say!’ Damn near worked every time, an’ that’s how I got this ring: SEC champions, never lost a game that year. . . . Well, we got a similar situation here.” He eyed his West Coast guests. “What you folks wanna do is score big with a running play from scrimmage, go about halfway down the field, and prance into the end zone for a game winner. Well, the way I see it, you’ve got MGM on your front line, but you need us Mitchell people to disembowel the secondary. Problem is, you want to call the signals from a playbook that we can’t live with. I go to the Mitchells with nothing but my dick in my hand, they’re going to throw me out and fire my firm faster’n you can say ‘Go Dawgs’. Look arounja; this place is ready to fall apart. It was built around the turn of the century, and less than ten years later, the guy that built it bailed out, and right after World War One, it was remodeled into a bunch of apartments. They even moved the original building back some on the lot, and tried to get some stores interested in the first site, but that didn’t work. Even so, this was a highly desirable residential region of the city, so the Marshes moved in in 1925 and hung in here until 1932—at which time they were only one of two occupants on the premises. John was a sort of minor exec with Georgia Power by then, a v-p’r sumpthin. This place was a crap house—still is—so they moved out to a bigger place up the street. Things never got any better, and after World War Two the place was practically empty right into the ‘50s, except for Tech students and hookers and winos. Then when they built Ansley Mall, it was sayonara to the neighborhood—the next step will be a demolition crew. Now, today, there’s nothing left but what you see, and nobody comes here but a few writers and eggheads from Emory and Georgia State, some politicians who probably never read the book—even Lester Maddox showed up once, and he’d most likely had a heart attack if he knew Martin Luther King, Junior and Senior had stopped by—and there’re always a bunch o’ die-hard Rebs and rednecks coming in from time to time to pay homage to the air ol’ Margaret used to breathe. Matter of fact, she didn’t even die here, so there’re no ghosts to look for. She died downtown, in Grady Hospital, after five days in a coma from getting’ run down by an off-duty taxi driver driving his own car. They say he was drunk, but it was probably her own damn fault. She stepped off the curb on Peachtree without looking, and whamo. Her husband was with her, by now he was her business manager, but he was still on the sidewalk—car never touched him—some assholes even said he pushed her, but that was bullshit. . . . Anyway, this place is destined for the wrecking ball ‘fore long. Mark’ll tell you.”

“I think,” Nussbaum said, “Mark Walsh’s a no-show.”

“Naw. He’ll be here.”

Wally slid back his chair, rumpling the rug, and stood up; he straightened the rug with his foot. He gestured toward the door to his left. “That the bedroom?”

“Yeah. The other one goes to the kitchen.”

Wally moved away from the dining room table and opened the bedroom door. He stepped inside, amazed how small it was, a room only eleven by fourteen, barely inches larger than his walk-in closet in Malibu. There was one window nearly hidden by chintz curtains; the window, heavily leaded, was small and halfway up the center wall. Wally closed the door. Beneath the window was . . . the bed. A standard double bed that left little room for a nightstand and a chest of drawers. The bed was a brass four-poster, and the brass had not been polished in decades. It was covered with a chenille bedspread that boasted deep red buds, small pom-poms, scattered on a pale blue background. There were two pillows at the top of the bed, and their matching cases were also pale blue, but spared the ubiquitous red buds. There were two doors in the opposing wall, and Wally opened the closest one and glanced in at the bathroom. He saw the iron tub on lion’s paws, the high, oval basin beneath the zinc spigots of hot and cold, and the porcelain toilet set on a three inch marble pedestal under a matching tank with its long leather tassel and wooden grip. Quickly, he closed the door and opened the other, a tiny closet—empty and unlit. He tried closing the door again, but it was warped and did not shut tightly. He stood looking at it for a moment, wondering if John Marsh had ever nudged it shut with his knee. Wally tried. It did not budge. He stepped back and his calves touched the bed. He sat down on the edge of the bed, the bed under which she, Margaret Mitchell, had once hidden many pages of her book, and he was surprised the bed did not squeak. To be certain, he placed his hands at his sides and gently bounced up and down. No squeak. Slowly, he leaned back and lie down on the left side of the bed, squirming slightly until he was parallel with the edge, and he placed his head on the pillow, suddenly aware how flat and hard it was. “You’d never put your head down here, would you, Peggy?” he said, aloud but softly. “Of course not,” answering his own question; “this was John’s side of the bed.” He lie looking up at the white tin ceiling squares; they were dimpled and sculptured with curly-cues and flowers of many designs. He closed his eyes and tried to imagine the wallpaper, to which he had paid no attention. But his imagination, overcome by distance and time zones, was miles away from wallpaper, lost in a fog of loneliness and foreboding, as though just being in this madhouse of creativity had drained him of any hope he might recapture in a new film any of what Margaret Mitchell had hoped for thirty years ago. Margaret Mitchell. Peggy Marsh. Remember the words, the thousands of them scribbled under her title: Gone With the Wind . . . gone where? . . gone why? gone forever? . . . gone under the bed? Peggy. He moved his left hand slightly, and he touched hers. There . . . she was there beside him, on the bed. Her hand was soft—smooth, not an old woman’s hand at all. He held it in his own, and slowly he increased the pressure until he held it firmly, becoming mildly aroused. She was not going to get away. This was, he knew, the right thing to do. This was their bed, where she and John had slept together many nights—where they lay naked and cuddled and talked about the Depression, where they fucked—“Don’t be gross,” she said, and that startled him. He turned his head and looked at her; a shudder of sheer delight salved him with a balm of happiness: lying next to him was Betsy Rand, not Peggy Marsh. Or maybe it was Peggy—the resemblance was uncanny. “Oh, good lord, you are so beautiful!” he whispered. He rolled over on top of her; his kissed her passionately, now fully aroused. “I love you, John,” Peggy sighed, and he opened his eyes. Betsy was gone. So was Peggy. . . . Gone with the . . . His mouth was pressed against the extra pillow he had pulled close, and he heard voices coming from the other room, beyond the door.

“I’m sorry,” he said, coming again to the dining room table. “L.A. time caught up with me.”

Mark Walsh, who had come in, jumped and knocked over his chair. “My God,” he cried, “Wally Emerson! You look just like you do on TV! You’ve got to come by the station and do some promos! Jesus! I can’t believe it! Were you asleep in there all this time? Did our jibber-jabbering wake you up! Jesus!” Walsh, a distractingly ill-fitted toupee making his gross obesity more noticeable, spoke with a slight British or South African accent. He used the vernacular of the true video fan in a way that was more comical than offensive, and had he not been the general manager of a major network affiliate, Wally would have suspected he was, at best, a well-fed 7-11 convenience store operator. Although he was not, at the moment, sweating, his face and hands were oily and shiny with the residue of sporadic perspiration. Wally saw immediately that Walsh’s ebony toupee did not match the brown fuzz that clung above his ears and to the back of his neck. Walsh thrust out a chunky arm with a fat hand for Wally to shake; Wally stared at it as though he were being offered a dead, hairy animal to examine.

“Hi,” Wally said, ignoring the gesture and using both hands to tuck in his sport shirt that had bulged out lying down. “Guess I dozed off. Still on L.A. time.”

Walsh retrieved his chair, uprighting it, while Wally again joined them at the table, taking his original place across from Morris Nussbaum. “Have a good snore?” the network boss chided.

“Yeah. Yes. Even had a dream. . . . Roy, are there any pictures of Margaret Mitchell here, in the apartment?”

Zessack glanced at Nussbaum, then looked casually about the room. “I don’t think so.”

“You know what she looked like?”

“I don’t know.” Zessack shrugged. “Short, slender. Petite, I guess. Dark hair—curly. Pretty, in a, well, sort of an ordinary way. You know . . . very feminine. Her picture’s on the dust jacket of the book if you got an original copy.”

Wally dug into his hip pocket and brought out his wallet. From one of the celluloid windows he withdrew a studio portrait of Betsy, which he handed to Zessack. “She look like this?”

“Wow.” Zessack studied the photo. “This, I assume, is Betsy Rand.. . . . Yeah. Amazing. They could, maybe, be almost but non-identical twins. I think Mitchell’s older. Maybe. Miss Rand’s hair’s longer—her face is maybe rounder. . . . Whaddayew think, Mark?”

He handed the photo to WXIA’s general manager who looked at it and handed it to Nussbaum. “I don’t know. I never met Margaret Mitchell. I saw some pretty good shots of her in a Sunday supplement once. . . . Yeah. They kinda look alike.”

Nussbaum handed the picture back to Wally. “What’re you thinking?” Wally placed it back in his wallet and secured the leather case in his hip pocket. “I think,” he said, “there’s a way we can save ‘the Dump’ and convince the estate to give us a green light to re-make the movie.”

Zessack looked suspiciously at the young actor. “What kinda Yankee cumshaw you contemplatin’, fella?”

21

Wally and Morris Nussbaum had booked a suite at the Georgian Terrace Hotel in downtown Atlanta on Peachtree Street, and from their living room they could see the Fox Theater. They could not, however, see Loew’s Grand Theater further down Peachtree Street where Gone With the Wind had had its world premier. “Hard to believe.” Nussbaum told Wally, “but this is the same exact suite where Gable stayed with Carole Lombard during the premier. Vivien Leigh was just down the hall.”

“How do you know that?”

“The bellman who brought our bags up told me.”

Wally seemed cynical. “Sure. That guy wasn’t even born in 1939. He probably tells everybody the same bullshit.”

“Yeah, probably.”

“Why didn’t they use the Fox, right across the street?”

“I dunno. MGM was owned by Loew’s, so the rent was probably better. . . . You gonna fill us in on your grand idea at dinner?”

Mark Walsh had invited them to be his guests for dinner at Bones, one of Buckhead’s preeminent steak houses far to the north on Piedmont Road, in the suburbs of upper Atlanta. “It’s where everybody who’s anybody in show business dines nowadays,” he declared, and when Zessack agreed, Wally and Nussbaum did, also. “Think Oliver can find it?” Wally asked.

Walsh had arranged for a private room, and their waiter was Enrico Caruso—his real name was Paulo Pasquale, but, because of his magnificent tenor, he had been permanently dubbed ‘Enrico Caruso’ by the WXIA personalities who frequented the eatery. “I don’t have to sit around,” Wally groused, “and be on my best behavior and glad-hand a bunch of NBC staffers, do I?” Nussbaum made a face: “Not ‘less you want to. What do you plan on doing—getting shit-faced and grabbing some waitress?” Wally looked at Nussbaum as if he’d just passed gas. “You can be such an asshole.” Nussbaum shook his head. “Man, you really miss her, doancha?”

“You have no idea,” he said, and headed for the bathroom to shave.

Running the Remington over his cheeks and chin, he studied his face in the mirror, and his thoughts roamed into the third person: You’re not such an ugly cocksucker after all, you cocksucker, despite what Trent DeBrine says. Betsy is damned lucky to have you. Man, is she one lucky lady! Where would she be if you hadn’t come to Hollywood in ‘59 looking for a job? Yeah! That’s right—Yeah! Probably would have married Stu Tremaine or Frankie Stitchcoe and been divorced with six kids by now, fat and bedraggled, an old hag nobody wants and not one Emmy or Oscar to show for it. Newman would have poured salad dressing over his head and set fire to himself. Lennie would have shot all three, been indicted and hanged for murder—do they still hang people?—and where the fuck would you be? Probably dead with cirrhosis of the liver and married to either Isabelle or Beverly Faucette, or both, or screwing them both outta their minds and driving a taxi for H&V. Or calling up Genevieve Rachmann and chasing her all over the country and bringing her glasses of warm milk. Or still married to Geraldine—oh, Christ save me!—Shit, you don’t deserve anyone as—great—grand—dynamic—marvelous—beautiful—as Betsy . . .Fuck I don’t! Wait til the new Gone With the Wind hits the screen! Wait till Today is Yesterday’s Tomorrow hits TV!

“You coming?” Nussbaum shouted through the bathroom door. “The limo driver’s waiting in the lobby downstairs, and he’s double parked outside!”

By the time Mark Walsh had ordered the second bottle of Chateau St. Michelle ‘Canoe Ridge’ Merlot, Wally had revealed enough of his ‘plan’ to peak their interest. He had bypassed the appetizer and salad and headed straight for his medium rare bone-in rib eye, smothered in sautéed mushrooms and Vidalia onions. He looked from Roy Zessack to Walsh, still chewing, and said, “You both know Betsy Rand, my wife, the actress—how familiar, really, are you with her?—her work?—background? You know what she’s like, what she looks like . . . ”

“I know she’s beautiful—gorgeous,” Zessack offered.

Walsh nodded enthusiastically. “Fabulous . . . stunning . . . uh, a knockout.”

Nussbaum, fascinated that Walsh had tucked his napkin under his chin, into his shirt collar above his tie, added, “And very, very talented.”

“Yeah,” said Wally, “all those things, which you’ll find out when she plays Scarlett O’Hara to Brando’s Rhett Butler.”

Walsh asked, “And he’s all locked up?—Brando, I mean, for Rhett Butler?”

“No.” Wally shook his head and sliced a small sliver of steak. “But he will be, once it really hits the street, once the word gets out how much we want him—”

“And how much Wally’s willing to pay him,” Nussbaum interjected, just as the fresh bottle of wine was being served. The sommelier, thinking Wally had ordered the Merlot, poured a smidgen for him to try. Wally hoisted the glass by its stem and took it all in his mouth, sloshing it about as if it really mattered. He suddenly remembered what he’d read Orson Welles had once done under a similar circumstance: he’d simply leaned over and spit out the sample all over the sommelier’s shoes, saying, “This swill is not fit for a sous-chef! Bring me a bowl of grapes!” Wally swallowed the wine and laughed out loud. “I knew,” mused Zessack, “Merlot was a fun wine, but I never knew it was funny!” Wally wiped his lips with his napkin, nodded to the sommelier that it was fine, and told the others the Orson Welles’ alleged myth. “He’d really do that?” Walsh asked, “I gotta remember that next time I’m out!”

Wally quickly returned to the matter at hand. “Betsy Rand,” he revealed, his voice a low whisper that made Zessack and Walsh lean closer to him across the table, “will be the most perfect Scarlett O’Hara anyone could possibly imagine. I’m not taking anything away from Vivien Leigh. She was a ravishing beauty, an extraordinary talent—God, she won well-deserved Oscars for Gone With the Wind and Streetcar Named Desire—and she dominated Broadway, London, and the movies for decades, despite devastating mental and physical illnesses, tormented marriages, miscarriages—even theatrical disappointments for roles not won, stupid love affairs—shit, you name it. That woman had everything, had nothing, got everything, got nothing, despite her, her great talents, her fantastic beauty—I mean, talents and looks like we rarely see anymore—she damn near got aced out of Scarlett O’Hara by Joan Bennett, Paulette Goddard, or Jean Arthur. If it weren’t for George Cukor, who knows what Selznick would have done? . . . No, I don’t want to re-make Gone With the Wind because of Vivien Leigh. I want to do it in spite of her. . . . Betsy Rand, though no match in John Q. Public’s mind for Leigh in the glamour queen department, is the best, finest, greatest actress working today—man, she wasn’t even born when Leigh did Scarlett! But that’s the whole point. The role needs to be revised, not just reprised. The whole book needs to be re-scripted—the plot re-worked—the characters revitalized! . . . Betsy and Brando are not only perfect, they are the very best we have in this whole fucking world who can make it work—work like it never worked before. And the timing could not be more perfect. . . . Would Vivien Leigh be a better choice? Maybe. Yeah, probably . . . but I’m talking about the Vivien Leigh of 1937, no question. But not anymore. She’s old, damn near fifty-five, not really old, but she’s ill—dying, in fact, over in England, and I don’t think she’ll be with us much longer—she’ll be gone before the year is out. I don’t think she’ll live long enough to see Betsy in her role, the role she created. . . . But, anyway, here’s how we get the Mitchells to go along . . . ”

Enrico Caruso came into the room and handed a dessert menu to each of them. Wally glanced at his and said, “Bring me the pecan pie,” and handed the menu back.

“You like Key Lime pie?” Walsh suggested. “Sure,” Wally said. “Yeah, I do, too,” said Zessack. “It’s okay by me,” Nussbaum agreed.

“Key Lime pie with mango and Kiwi coulis,” Walsh told the waiter; “all around.” Enrico Caruso snatched up the menus in one hand and, with the other, finished off the bottle of Merlot by filling all the glasses.

Wally waited until he waiter had left the room. “Have any of you,” he asked, “ever given any thought to Margaret Mitchell other than as the author of a best selling book about the Civil War? Or—the book upon which a blockbuster movie was made?” Nussbaum shrugged, and Zessack, glancing at Walsh, shook his head, and Walsh followed suit, indicating they hadn’t. “Well,” Wally admitted, “recently, I have. This afternoon, lying on her bed, I realized, I think, for the first time, that she was, was a real person—a living, breathing real person—not just a name, a by-line, a picture on a dust jacket on a book rotting away in some library. Margaret Mitchell, believe it or not, was a woman, a real person who got cold in a drafty room, hot in a closed car—loved her very rich and very Victorian family, had two husbands, one was a prince of a fellow, the other, the first, a real sonofabitch—she had cramps and stomach aches, sniffles and headaches—she smoke cigarettes and drank bourbon, was even blackballed by the Junior League—laughed at funny things and cried when people died, had orgasms when her husbands fucked her—I mean, she was a person, a people, just like you and me and all the people we know. You know what I mean?”

Wally paused and looked around the table, letting it sink in. His eyes stayed on Mark Walsh, and as he stared at him, Walsh’s obesity faded somewhat and his neck slipped higher up in his collar and the napkin lost its tuck and fell into his lap. Shifting to Roy Zessack, Wally perceived the athletic, dapper lawyer was with him, on the right track, and had an inkling what was coming next. Only Nussbaum, to Wally’s surprise, seemed perplexed—not really perplexed or confused, but suspicious, as though money—some of his own, perhaps—was about to change hands. “If you’re thinking what I think you’re thinking, how much is this going to cost me?”

Wally laughed. “Nothing. . . . You guys are pieces of work,” he said, disparagingly. “What I’m talking about is a made-for-TV movie about the life of Margaret Mitchell, her marriages to Red Upshaw and John Marsh, and how she actually came to write Gone With the Wind. Think about it. . . . A screen drama about the Mitchells, about Margaret—Peggy—being born here in Atlanta, growing up on a fancy estate, wanting to be a writer, falling in love with some poor bloke who went off and got killed in World War One, marrying some asshole bootlegger from South Carolina—on whom I’m sure she based some of Rhett Butler—divorcing him, marrying John Marsh—all that stuff about working for the newspaper, living in ‘the Dump’ on Peachtree Street, writing the book and hiding it and never telling anyone about it, finally selling it, becoming a celebrity, going to Hollywood, coming home and getting killed by a drunk driver—my God, what a movie I could make out of it! . . .”

Nussbaum sipped the last of his wine, “And—of course—starring Betsy Rand.”

“You betcha. And, as a kicker, me—as John Marsh. . . . You want a made-for-TV hit? You want to stuff NBC’s bank account with advertising dollars? Man, I’ve just handed you the golden goose of 1968!”

Morris Nussbaum said nothing further for the moment, and he let his eyes wander down to the tablecloth, where he doodled a circular pattern with his fingernail. Zessack asked, “What makes you think the Mitchells would go along with this.”

“Money,” Wally said, softly. “Money. Loot. Filthy lucre, plain and simple. . . . Here’s my plan: we make a movie—let’s call it Today is Yesterday’s Tomorrow—while the script for Gone With the Wind is being finished, finalized, polished up and getting ready for production. We shoot the movie, Peggy’s life story, with Betsy as Margaret Mitchell, me as her husband, Lennie McCarthur and Lolo Rand as her mother and father, Terry Powell as her first husband—even a cameo by Marlon Brando, as her publisher—Jesus! This is fantastic! NBC buys the movie for all the production costs and splits all the advertising proceeds with the Mitchells. With that money, they buy the Crescent Apartments and renovate ‘the Dump’ to even better than it was when the Marshes first moved in—they call it . . . ‘The Margaret Mitchell House’ and turn the place into a museum, a tourist attraction—shit, maybe even a national landmark. Morrie, who do you know in Congress? We could build a theater on the property and show all three movies all the time—the life story, the original Gone With the Wind, and the re-make! Admission to the House, ticket sales to the movies, plus books and all the crap in the gift shop would sustain the place for decades to come. Not to mention Civil War societies and federal grants. Wow! Just stop and think what all this could mean to NBC—to MGM—to the Mitchells—to the city of Atlanta—to . . . all of us! Am I a fucking genius, or what?”

Wally slept well at the Georgian Terrace Hotel that night, in perhaps the same bed once shared by Clark Gable and Carole Lombard. Long after midnight, he was awakened by Morris Nussbaum snoring in the other bedroom across the parlor—maybe, Wally thought, it wasn’t Nussbaum; it was merely noise from Peachtree Street, twenty stories below. Maybe it was Oliver, their driver—where was he sleeping that night? Did he go home? Where was home? Did he run off with the limo? Was the limo parked somewhere in the bowels of the hotel with Oliver asleep on the front seat? Was Oliver trapped in the—bowels? Wally fell back asleep with thoughts of Oliver swimming upstream inside the putrid colon of the hotel’s maze of plumbing. . . . Christ, how much Merlot had I had on top of vodka/rocks?

At three o’clock in Atlanta he called Betsy in Malibu and woke her up. “I love you,” he mumbled.

“I love you, too.” Her voice was a rich espresso, thick with sleep.

“Be home tomorrow.”

“Good. Miss you.”

“We’re gonna make a different movie first.”

“Good.”

“You’re Margaret Mitchell, and I’m John Marsh.”

“ . . . Who?”

“Your husband.”

“I know. I love you.”

“No . . . I mean, I’m Margaret’s husband.”

“Oh . . . Who am I?”

“You’re Margaret. Peggy.”

“Oh.

. . . Who?”

“Goodnight, Margaret.”

“ . . . Who?”

* * *

In the limo, on the way back to Charlie Brown Airport, Nussbaum asked, “How do you know so much about Margaret Mitchell?—and what’s his name?—John Marsh?”

Wally, still admiring the Georgia topography, unfolded his hands and rubbed his palms together. “Peggy told me,” he answered.

“Peggy?”

“Yeah. Margaret. You know . . . we took a nap together yesterday afternoon. Peggy and me.”

Once strapped in their seats aboard the Learjet 23, somewhere over Arkansas, the stewardess, in her perky NBC-page uniform and pillbox hat, served them lunch—cold turkey sandwiches with cranberry sauce, cottage cheese, and potato chips. Nussbaum had a tall Coke, and Wally was content with a vodka tonic. The stewardess, a statuesque blonde whose name was Charlotte, asked if they’d like anything else. Wally, with a mock-sinister laugh said, “Charlotte rhymes with Scarlett. You wouldn’t happen to know Scarlett O’Hara, would you?”

“Noooo.” She seemed to think for a moment. “Nooo. I don’t think so. Does she work for NBC?”

Wally waved his hand as if to indicate he didn’t know, and the stewardess named Charlotte moved to the rear of the plane and sat down with a copy of Seventeen magazine.

“I’m not very hungry,” Nussbaum said. “Breakfast at the hotel was remarkably—delicious.”

“Yeah. I love Southern cooking. The eggs were perfect—I wish I knew how they made those biscuits and white gravy. Maybe Lennie knows—I’ll ask him.”

“I never liked grits before, but they were great this morning. . . .” Nussbaum picked at his turkey sandwich. “Who you got in mind to write the Peggy and John Marsh script?”

“I don’t know. I’ll ask DeBrine. . . . Maybe Tom Wolfe.”

“I think he’s a novelist.”

“Yeah. Well, that’s okay. He’s very good with dialogue. And I think he’s a Southerner, as well. We should have a Southerner do it.”

“Will he work for nothing?”

“I don’t know. I’ll tell him Betsy, me, Lennie and Lolo, DeBrine, all of us, are working gratis—”

“You can’t do that.”

“How come?”

“Unions.”

“Oh. Shit. . . . Then we’ll just donate our salaries, a charitable donation to, to—I don’t know—the Margaret Mitchell House Fund. Hey, not a bad name! Shit . . . just from Betsy and me alone ought to cover buying that property and renovating the place. If we run short, NBC can make up the difference.”

Nussbaum sipped his Coke. “Sure. I’ll send Sarnoff a telegram. He’s just sitting around waiting to spend more money!””

“Remind him the millions he’s gonna make on this deal.”

While they flew back to Los Angeles, Wally outlined his movie idea for the network entertainment president. The Margaret Mitchell movie would be cut to two hours and twenty-eight minutes, leaving thirty minutes for commercials, promos, and station ID’s; it would be scheduled for a Sunday evening, 8 to 11 PM, exactly one month before the release date of the new Gone With the Wind, and there would be five one-minute teasers spaced appropriately for the local premiers “at theaters all over America.” Wally insisted the World Premier had to be held in Atlanta with the entire cast on hand. “Just like in 1939,” he said, “only this time at the Fox Theater, right across the street from the Georgian Terrace. Brando can have the ‘Gable/Lombard’ suite, and Betsy and I’ll take the ‘Vivien Leigh’. And all the blacks will sit with us in the cast section.” Additionally, NBC would agree to promote the film for at least two months in general prime time programming, and MGM would place newspaper and magazine ads everywhere. “The more we hype this thing,” Wally reminded his boss, “the bigger the eventual revenue.”

“Seems logical,” Nussbaum replied, but Wally missed the sarcasm. “I doubt you can get Tom Wolfe.”

“You’re probably right. Let’s see what DeBrine says.”

Isabelle met them at the Hollywood-Burbank Airport and immediately drove Morris Nussbaum to NBC’s Burbank Studios. “I’ll call you either at home or at the McCarthur’s the minute I hear anything from Atlanta,” he said, showing his pass to the security guard. Isabelle sped away moments later, heading for Malibu. Wally, in the front seat, watched her drive. Damn, he thought, she was one good-looking woman! Change was a mild word for the metamorphosis this one sister had experienced the past few years. No longer the brash, brassy trollop from The Rest Room, now burnished but definitely not polished, her puissant fastidiousness emanating from association with Betsy and her family, not to mention her own persona and that of working on Rusted Spurs, even in an unnoticed and rudimentary way, had transformed her into something of . . . of all things! . . a lady. Not that she wasn’t a knockout back in ’57 and ’58, he reminded himself, but now, just a couple—well, a few years later, the makeover seemed complete. How old was she? he wondered. Let’s see: maybe thirty-five, thirty-six? He hadn’t thought about her—or her sister—in how long? Yeah, probably, thirty-six at least. . . . He looked at her closely, and he tried not to stare. “Whaddya lookin’ at?” she hummed, and he noticed even her voice had changed. “Nothing. Just . . . you. You look—different.” She said nothing, made no reply, keeping her eyes on the road. Then, “Same ol’ me. Same ol’ Isabelle.” They drove on another mile or so, and Wally said, “You ever go back to The Rest Room?” She shook her head, her blonde curls springing into action as if a window were suddenly powered down. “No. Haven’t been there in . . . since . . . I don’t remember when. I don’t even know if the place is still there. Probably isn’t.” Wally made a mental note that she did not say ‘ain’t;’ she said ‘haven’t’ and ‘isn’t.’ Good girl! Where the hell did she learn such nice words? From her boyfriend? Before he could stop himself, he blurted out: “You got a boyfriend?”

“Me? Hell, no!—good heavens, no!”

“You dating anybody?”

“No, not really. Trent takes me out to dinner and parties . . . once in a while. Nothing serious. You know how he is.”

Trent? Trent DeBrine? Jesus. . . . Wally felt something stirring in his head, between his eyes, just behind his pituitary gland. A pang of—jealousy? Shit. Jealousy, my ass! Trent!

“He takes out Beverly, too,” Isabelle amplified. “Once inna while. He’s a super guy.”

Ohmigod! Wally thought, Trent’s fucking them both! The sonofabitch! Both my girls! . . . Whadda I care? I mean, what the hell do I care?

They would have driven the rest of the way to his house in Malibu in silence had she not asked, “So—how’d it go in Atlanta? You meet up with the Mitchell people?”

“Who? . . . . Oh. No, not exactly. We got together at the apartment, place where she wrote the book—the Mitchell’s attorney and some schmuck from the local affiliate—and we made’m a deal to buy and renovate the place if they give me the rights to make the movie.”

“Will they?”

“Morrie says he thinks so. Be fools not to. . . . You ever hear of a writer named Tom Wolfe?”

Isabelle thought for a moment. “Yeah! I did! We hadda read’m in school, in high school, our senior year—it was awful. Bev an’ me both. American Literature. Dumbest class we ever took. I loved Matthew Twain, but that guy Wolfe . . .We both got C’s—but we passed . . I never understood a word he wrote, not being able to go home again—”

“Not him,” Wally interrupted, “That was Thomas Wolfe, another guy. I’m talking about Tom Wolfe, a newspaper reporter-type writer, who just published a bunch of essays about automobiles called The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby.”

“The—what?” Isabelle shook her head and the blonde curls danced again in the phantom wind. “Nope. Never read him.”

“To be honest, neither have I. But Betsy gave me his book for my birthday, and I flipped through it. . . . I think he’s the guy who could write a made-for-TV script for a movie on Margaret Mitchell and when she wrote Gone With the Wind.”

“Oh. . . . Can you get him?”

“I dunno. Maybe. Morrie says we can’t, but—maybe.”

When they arrived at the house in Malibu, Isabelle swung the car off the main road and pulled up in front of the garage. She glanced over her shoulder at the beach leading to the ocean, while Wally rummaged in the glove compartment for the remote opener. He held it in his hand, but he did not push the button. Isabelle asked him if he was going to go for a swim—“I’ll go with you, if you want?” He pushed the button and the garage door rolled up. Betsy’s car was not inside.

“I don’t think so,” he said, and he wasn’t entirely sure what he meant by it. Either he wasn’t sure he was going for a swim, or he wasn’t sure whether or not to invite Isabelle in. He was, however, sure Betsy was not home yet. He glanced at his watch; it was four-seventeen; she would be home by six, six-thirty at the latest. “Tell you what: take the car and go on home. Call it a day. Bring the car back tomorrow and pick me up. Tell Beverly to come along and plan on dinner at Lennie and Lolo’s. We’ll all drive over together.” He started to say, “Trent’ll be there,” and he wasn’t going to, but he did, anyway. “Call me tomorrow—after twelve noon—we, uh, always sleep late on Saturdays, when we can.” He opened the car door and slid out. “I’ll let you know what time when you call. . . . I’ll see you tomorrow . . . Okay?”

Isabelle shrugged, but it was so slight, so indifferent, that the blonde curls barely moved. “Whatever. See ya.”

Nothing ever goes so smoothly as events derived from plans vaguely considered and cavalierly made. Wally should know. From the very beginning, he had shot from the hip—his original trip to Hollywood simply because Lennie had said, as casually as he’d ever said anything, “you get to Callyfornya sumday, look me up—less git together,” was all Wally needed to start making vacation plans. AFRA shop steward and staff announcer, Bob Bannister mentioned he had once worked with Peter Powell who just happened to be Terry Powell’s brother. “If you’re going out to Hollywood, look up Terry Powell. I used to work with his kid brother in New York. I’ll see if I can getcha his phone number.” And then there was Glenn DiTavi’s cynical remark in the WNGD lunchroom one day: “Yeah, Hollywood—that’s a good place for you. They’re really into gross right now.” With the exception of Lennie, Wally wondered what had become of the other players in his past, the nay sayers, the ones from Buffalo, even the former Geraldine Furk Emerson Butterworth whose best revenge, he had to admit, was marrying Dick Butterworth. Was ‘revenge’ the right word? He didn’t know—nor did he care. Thanks to Lenny—and Trent DeBrine and Terry Powell and Brian Donlevy and Edmund O’Brien and Morris Nussbaum and Henry Fonda’s Grapes of Wrath hat and probably hundreds of other things and people he didn’t, couldn’t, know about—he had wound up with Rusted Spurs firmly in his pocket and the viewing public worldwide thinking he was something special, and that had led him to the altar with America’s most superlative megastar at his side, which was all he really wanted in the first place. And Betsy, in her own sheltered, pumped up growth in an industry that rarely, if ever, made room for talent that came wrapped in gentle, clean, sparkling (when it wanted to be) glamour instead of heart-stopping, sexy beauty, had handed him the idea, the notion, that it was the perfect time for a perfect re-make of a not-so-near-perfect old movie. Who better to star in it than Betsy herself—and Marlon Brando and Terry Powell and Lennie McCarthur and Lolo Rand and . . . et al? And who better to produce it than himself, Wally Emerson, the kid from Buffalo who had escaped the frozen tundra to capture the gold ring, the dream, the legend, Excalibur, the Holy Grail—the rewards—with no more qualification than blind, deaf and dumb ambition borne out of the most simplistic belief that it was there all the time, there for the taking—even if he had no idea how it could be done?

Marlon Brando . . .

He turned in bed and looked at Betsy, beside him. She had, as he knew she would, gotten home at six-twenty, and they had gone right to bed. No dinner, no drinks—well, just one vodka/rocks after each of the four times they had made love—and now, exhausted and genuinely thirsty, he said, “I’m having a vodka and we’re calling Marlon Brando.” He started for the bar across the room. “We got his number?”

Betsy threw back the rumpled sheet that was covering her and gestured toward the night table. “Book should be in there.”

He looked at her naked on the bed. “Forget the drink,” he said, aroused again by her glowing, white body and its sheen of satiny desire. She giggled that childishly euphonious cry of delight and said, “No more—please! Spare me, master! There’s no more left!” She rolled out of bed, sitting on the edge, and opened the nightstand drawer. He stared at her back and rump and wondered why he’d gotten up in the first place; his original idea to make a telephone call had completely evaporated. “Here,” she said, handing him the slim directory over her shoulder. The Silver Book.

Unknown to nearly everyone outside the favored community, most major players in the theatrical/movie/TV/radio/newspaper, magazine and book publishing world had unlisted addresses and telephone numbers in Los Angeles, New York, London, and all cities on earth in which they cared to live, either permanently or by whim—unlisted information printed in a well-guarded directory that was made available only to selected offices such as agents, studios, restricted media, and certain of the listings’ peers. If one owned The Silver Book, a slim ornate directory with its Comedy/Tragedy embossed masks on the cover, there was no one of any significance in show business who could not be contacted by telephone or mail whenever one wished. Under Marlon Brando’s name there were five addresses, seven phone numbers and a scant bio. “Which one you think he’s at?” Wally asked. He had had to cross to her side of the bed to take the directory from her. He looked down and she was staring at his midsection. She handed him the directory with her left hand and grasp him firmly in her right. She quickly released him when he said, “Jesus! How can I concentrate?” Laughing this time, she pointed to the telephone. “Try the L.A. number first.” Reluctantly backing away, releasing himself from her grip, he looked in the book and dialed with his thumb. Brando answered on the second ring.

“Yuggha, ruffagga, uhhhhh—yeah? Grrghugh!” He coughed loudly in Wally’s ear as if he’d suddenly inhaled rancid smoke through his nose.

WALLY: You okay?

BRANDO (coughing, mumbling—more mumbling than coughing, a sort of koine easily understood because of the personality employing it): Cohggruffroggtuh! Yeah. Ghrrufnaoogg-hisst! Drank some water—w’dow wrong way. Who’ziss?

WALLY: Emerson—Wally Emerson. I wake you up?

BRANDO: No . . . still up. . . . Oh. Ghrut! Wal—guy fromma TV show?—Rusting Spurs?—yeah, thass you . . . Waszup, man?

WALLY: Well, I needta talk with you about—something.

BRANDO: Yeah . . . I know . . . Gone With Wind. . . . Knew you call me. Not week—nex. Purdy zoo. I read Variety an’ Ha’woo Por, once a while.

WALLY (sitting down on the edge of the bed beside his wife): Yeah. Well. I—I’m here—I’m at home, with Betsy Rand—

BRANDO: Teller seh h’llo. . . . She’s gonna be a gray Scarlett!

WALLY: And you’re going to be a great Rhett Butler. That’s what I want to talk—

BRANDO: Hime in. Cown me in.

WALLY: . . . What?

BRANDO: What I seh—Hy’m in. You want me for Butler, y’got me. I talked with Seymour las’ night—he seh I wanna do hit, then juss d’hit. Why y’wan me?

WALLY: I saw your screen test you, uh, made for Rebel Without a Cause. Trent DeBrine found it—showed it to Betsy, Morris Nussbaum and me . . .

BRANDO: Jeesa. I w’only twenny-three. . . . Dint getta part. (He started to laugh and spoke with a clear plea of desperation) Hi wunt even a contender back then!

WALLY: Well, they all agreed—we want you for Rhett Butler.

BRANDO: Hi w’twenny-three I wanna Rebel. Forty-s’ven now.

WALLY: Well . . . we want you.

BRANDO: Ow . . . much?

WALLY: How much? (He changed ears to make it easier for Betsy to hear.)

BRANDO: Yeah. Hhusruff! Ow much I get f’Butler?

WALLY: Three mill.

BRANDO: ‘Bye. See ya.

(Wally waited while Betsy held her breath; there was no clicking disconnect at the other end.)

WALLY: Still there? . . Marlon—you still there?

BRANDO. Ugmm. Yeah. Ow much? Serious.

WALLY: Okay. Four million for ten weeks, plus one half one percent of the gross.

BRANDO (after a pause): Wha’ bout run over?

WALLY: Hundred grand a week . . .

BRANDO: Five p’cen gross.

WALLY: Can’t do it.

BRANDO: Two an’ half.

WALLY: One.

BRANDO: One sev’nty five.

WALLY: Okay.

BRANDO: Dill. Call Seymour Monnay tell’m Hi seh hits ok.

In Hollywood and certain regions belonging to Broadway, if three people shared a secret at nine in the morning, two dozen would be in on it by 4 P.M. It is a phenomenon no one could explain; the original three people would claim their lips were sealed: one was out of the country, one was in the hospital, and the other was drunk in a downtown hotel room.

At noon on Saturday Lennie McCarthur called his son-in-law in Malibu and said, “So . . . you got Brando, you sly ol’ dog, you!” Lennie revealed he’d heard it from Trent DeBrine, who later admitted he’d heard it from Terry Powell—who said he’d gotten a call from Gladys Alexander, a temp who worked for Harmon Springfield, an entertainment attorney, who at the time was vacationing in Hawaii. Why Ms Alexander, whom he did not know, had called Powell was anyone’s guess (actually, Springfield had left his copy of The Silver Book on his desk, and Ms Alexander just happened to open it to the P’s: the first name she saw was Terry Powell’s.) By the next editions of Variety and Hollywood Reporter, it was ‘old news.’

In celebration, Lennie and Lolo invited everyone connected—everyone in Los Angeles at the moment—connected with the re-make of Gone With the Wind—to an afternoon and evening pool soiree/cocktail party/cookout (catered, of course) at Bar Amateurs on Sunday. . . . “Pool’s open at eleven,” Lennie told them; “bar’s open at ten—come at nine, if you wanna!” They all immediately asked the same question: “Brando coming?” Lennie didn’t know; he called Wally. Wally said he’d call the actor and call Lennie right back. Brando’s houseboy answered and said “Misser Brand in New York ill Flydee.” Wally had no sooner hung up than Marlon Brando called him. He’d heard (through the “gray-whine”) that Wally was planning a made-for-TV movie about Margaret Mitchell, and Terry Powell was slated to play her first husband, Red Upshaw. “Thass dumb-ass castin,” Brando spit out. “You smart, you put me in as Red—shit man, she base her Rhett Butler guy on Upshaw! Fine sumpin else for Powell.” Wally explained he wanted to save Brando for a cameo appearance as Mitchell’s publisher—one day’s work. “No fuckin way, man! Let Powell play’er publisher!” Wally explained that everyone in the picture was working gratis, donating his or her salary for three and a half weeks’ work to fund the Margaret Mitchell House. “Thass ok. You wan me f’Butler inna movie Gone W’Wind, Hi playin Upshaw inna cheapie movie. Shit man, you got Betsy Rand playin Mitchell, jus make sense! You playin’er second husband?” Wally said that was so. “Good. Jus put me down f’ur firs fuck.”

Wally was amazed at his good fortune. He called Lennie right away. “Marlon Brando insists on playing Mitchell’s first husband in the TV movie—can you believe it? And I got him for nothing! And I got him for ten weeks for Gone With the Wind for four mill and one point seventy-five gross—which MGM’s gotta pay outta distribution anyway! You believe this?!”

Lennie, rolling his wheelchair closer to the library end table, shook his head as though Wally could see him. “You’re one lucky dumb fuck! Is he comin’ to our party?”

“No,” Wally said. “He’s in New York rehearsing some Carson McCullers’ piece he’s doing for John Huston. It was Monty Clift’s thing with Liz Taylor and Julie Harris, but they called Brando in when Clift up and died. He says it’ll wrap before we even start.”

“Hah!” Lennie chided. “I can hear Jack Warner now when he heard Clift’d croaked: ‘How much is this gonna cost me!’. . . . You really got’m fer nuthin?”

“Clift?”

“No, wacko! Brando!”

“Yep. I’ll send Zessack half a mill as Brando’s contribution. . . . You wanna talk to your daughter?”

“Yeah, inna minute. . . . How come Brando knows so much about Whatsherface, Mar’gret Mitchell?”

Wally thought for a moment. “Don’t know. No clue,” he added, with deeper insight than he possessed, “if, in fact he knows a whit more than anyone else.”

Back in Buffalo, back when Wally was the weatherman on WNGD-TV, someone in the technical crew with unappreciated ability and imagination, had constructed, from plywood, transparent tubing, and a pneumatic pump, a sort of quasi-meter that was gradated along the side from I to X in large Roman numerals, a device that could be activated with an electric foot pedal to push colored water up the tube to indicate whatever Wally wanted to declare the next day’s forecast to be. It was called “Wally’s Weather Wonky” and depending on the forecast, he could emphatically demonstrate that tomorrow would be a ‘VI on the Weather Wonky’ or a ‘III’ or a ‘IX’—or whatever. An ‘X’ meant it would be a spectacularly perfect day, weather-wise. A ‘V’ was mediocre, a ‘II’ was blah, and a ‘VIII’ was great but not super. All Western New York (and southern Ontario Province) waited nightly, breathlessly, for Wally’s visual prognostications. He could have just covered a devastating earthquake on the news in which hundreds were killed and millions lost in property damage, but viewers were tuned in primarily to see what wonders the Wally’s Weather Wonky wrought. Lennie McCarthur, who had seen the magic meter in operation only once, many years before in Buffalo, called the Malibu house at seven-thirty Sunday morning.

“What’s your Wonky say?” he asked.

Betsy, who’d picked up the phone on the eighth ring, replied, “Wally’s wonky, as usual, says ‘More! More!’. . . . Dad, this is me. He’s still asleep.”

True, the sun also rises in the east, more or less, and observers in southern California tend to look southward—then, shading their eyes with their left hand in a sort of casual salute, turn slowly to the east and marvel as the giant red ball climbs out of Mexico and the Baja Peninsula, bouncing slightly from one ridge to another over the Santa Rosa Mountains, rather like an early morning sing-along: Good morn--ing! Good morn-ing! Here comes- a brand new day! By the time it is fully visible, it is on the eastern horizon, and today was definitely an ‘X’ on Wally’s Weather Wonky—such as it was, warm and balmy, and more like mid-July on than the first Sunday in April.

Terry and Abby Powell, along with the Brian Donlevys and the Edmund O’Briens, were the first to arrive, climbing out of O’Brien’s 1934 Mercedes-Benz limousine that Edmund insisted had once belonged to Adolph Hitler. It was a mammoth, eight-passenger machine, battleship gray and as ominous as the entrance to a concentration camp; he had purchased it from RKO who had acquired it from Kurt Sakmann Imports with documentation attesting to it past nefarious past. The automobile had appeared in more movies in the ‘40s than had Otto Kruger, Bonita Granville and Helmut Dantine combined.

Abby Powell went immediately to the kitchen to assist Lolo, who, had she been there, would have been assisting the cook, Janice, and the downstairs maids, Patty and Lucille, who were, all three, assisting Ruthie, the catering cook from Poteet’s. Lolo was just coming downstairs, maneuvering Lennie’s empty wheelchair one step at a time, while Lennie followed her, one step at a time, scooting on his rump with the rounded heels of his boots sliding on the smooth runners as he made his way from the second floor to the vestibule. “This’d literally be a pain in the ass,” he often said, somewhat breathlessly, “if my ass could feel sumpthin.” Abby came out of the kitchen through the dining room just as Lennie was being helped up and into his wheelchair. “Oh, there you all are!” she gushed, not with exasperation but with delight at having found them. Her voice, a most pleasant chime, was neither tinny nor shrill; she emitted a rich sound of breath and charm that left the listener anxious for more—though being a reticent woman, Abby usually had little to say.

Lennie smiled and said, “Wherever we are, thass where we always am. Howya doin’, Abby? If I had a plaid blanket an’ a cig’ret holder, I’d do my FDR impersonation f’ya!”

“Oughta be fun,” Abby said, dryly.

Terry and the others had already made their way to the pool, looking for Betsy and Wally; several had gone into the cabanas to change by the time Lennie, Lolo and Abby came out. Wally, Betsy and the elder Emersons arrived about ten-thirty, and at noon everyone was there: Abby and Terry Powell, Brian Donlevy and his wife, Lillian, Eddie O’Brien and Olga San Juan, Trent DeBrine and his date for the day, starlet Francis Creighton, and Morris Nussbaum, the Faucette twins, Orin Farmer and his staff of writers—Lorraine Johansson, Teddy Meloni, Donald Olenet, and Corey Provence—even Roy Zessack, the attorney from Atlanta, who had flown in for the weekend; Karl Dellacore and his wife Leslie was there, as was Nate Oppenheimer and his date, Aly Bisher, another starlet. The food was out now, as was the beer, wine and liquor; and people were in the pool, out of the pool, munching ribs and lamb chop morsels and deep-fried chicken fingers, potato salad and peeled shrimp, drinking Cantillon Kreik from bottles, Green Flash West Coast India Pale on draught, vodka, Johnny Walker Black Scotch, Seagram’s VO Canadian, and Jack Daniel’s—or Cokes or Dr Peppers in combination with other libations—mingling and chatting, admiring each others’ bathing suites and physiques, laughing, telling jokes, swapping gossip and lies, joshing and criticizing as only friends, colleagues and competitors can . . . making talk that was so small it had to be verbal, not ocular, as if nothing beyond that moment at Bar Amateurs mattered, or could matter, in the total scenario of life. The sky was brilliant, the sun was unblemished and equally brilliant, no cloud dared mar the earth or heavens, a mild breeze obliged to dry damp flesh, the water in the pool was bracing, slightly more tepid than cool, the food and drinks were exquisite—the men were secure and busy doing what had to be done, successful and fulfilled—the women were soft and glowing, secure as only women can be, comfortable inside their fine, fair skin, each one lovely, even beautiful in her own way, loved and loving—it was a glorious world where health and wealth were issues only the exoteric bourgeois were plagued to confront. It would be a long day, unfrazzled by common cares—oh, Lennie would walk again; it was only a matter of time and more operations, Dr. Alfvén was cautiously confident (though not present to expound;) Orin Farmer and his writers would create a colossal script for Gone With the Wind, Betsy would win an Oscar for her performance with Paul Newman, then another as Scarlett O’Hara—hell, who knew?—the re-make could win Oscars for everyone: Betsy Rand, Marlon Brando, Sally Field, Lolo, Lennie. . . . Wally Emerson, sitting on the edge of Betsy’s chaise lounge and fingering her toes, suddenly stopped all babbling and inconsequential conversation by announcing:

“Brando wants to play Peggy Mitchell’s first husband, Red Upchurch, in Today is Yesterday’s Tomorrow.” Quickly he added, “I think it’s a great idea.”

Farmer looked at Don Olenet and both saw reams of rewrites. Lennie, about to sip Jack Daniel’s, paused and looked at his ice cubes. Morris Nussbaum sucked on his lower lip. Trent DeBrine rubbed the bridge of his aquiline nose with a swizzle stick. Roy Zessack frowned. Eddie O’Brien stroked his chin but continued chewing the bone of a rib. Brian Donlevy drew heavily on his cigarette, inhaled deeply, and squeezed Lillian’s thigh; she rewarded him with a toothy, charming smile. Abby and Betsy exchanged glances. Nelson Emerson shrugged and Doris thought to herself, So what? Isabelle Follet, for no apparent reason, reached over and tweaked a tiny whitehead on her sister’s shoulder; Beverly cried, “Ouch!” and everyone thought she was responding to what Wally had just said. Terry Powell, coming off the diving board, seemed to pause in midair, then produced a resounding splash with a memorable belly-wacker. In the silence that followed, only the insouciant breeze working its way through the palms and hedgerows seemed indifferent and unconcerned.

“So?” Wally tossed out. “No big deal. In fact, it makes great sense. Red was Mitchell’s living prototype for Rhett Butler, no question ‘bout that. Brando’s gonna play Rhett to Betsy’s Scarlett. Betsy’s gonna play Margaret Mitchell in Today is Yesterday’s Tomorrow. I’m John Marsh. From a PR point, it’s ideal. Besides—we got Brando for nothing.”

The last sentence was magic. The flow of activity and dialogue that had been dammed with Wally’s initial statement was released as though someone had depressed the plunger and a mountainous bottleneck had been disintegrated by well-placed dynamite.

“I’ll drink tuh that!” Lennie exclaimed, and he did. Morris, as if he didn’t know, said, “Tell us how that works.” Trent said, “So—what else’s shakin’?” Doris said, “Yeah, I get it. He works for laughs!”

Wally bent forward and kissed Betsy’s big toe. “How’s it work? Pretty cut and dried,” he said. “He’ll appear in the TV movie and donate his fee—”

“How much?” Zessack looked up.

“All of it. I’d say at least half a million—what I’da paid him for the part inna first place. Remember, I got him for four mill rather than ten for the Big Time movie. I wanna do all his scenes first and get ridda him. . . . Orin, make sure we script every scene with him and Betsy or anybody, even all by himself, right up front—I wanna finish with him in ten weeks or less. He wants an overrun clause at fifty-grand a week. Trent, we can, can’t we? I mean, get him out in ten weeks? . . . . Betsy will be ready—even going to go to Atlanta to shoot some o’ the stuff we need to. . . . Will we, Roy? I mean stuff for Gone With the Wind?—I know a lota Today is Yesterday’s Tomorrow—at least the exteriors and walk arounds—have to be done in Atlanta. . . . I don’t care about that. . . . Betsy and Brando will have to be there, but I wanna get his stuff done and him outta there as soon as possible. That’s gonna be up to you, Orin, and your guys—you can do it, can’t you? Why do I worry? . . .What I worry about is Lennie—God, what if we get it half in can and Lennie gets up and starts walking?” Lolo laughed at that and made a crack that started everyone laughing: He do that, I don’t care if he does back flips, he stays in that wheelchair! Wally went on, “Orin, maybe you better have’m write two scripts for Lennie! Hah! . . . . What am I laughing about? . . . .Terry, in the TV movie, if Brando’s doing the Upchurch part, I want you as the publisher who talks Mitchell into letting you have her book. . . . Orin, this has to be a big scene, maybe two scenes with me and Peggy arguing over it, lotsa pleading and second-thoughts and all that soul-searching stuff. Terry, you okay with this?—shit, it’ll wind up being six minutes on screen rather than two! . . . The point is, we got a stupendous hit on our hands—two hits!—starring Marlon Brando and Betsy Rand. . . . Jesus, talk about cinema history! The two greatest actors in the world, the two biggest, palmary—icons!—locked into a TV movie and a classic re-make follow-up—back-to-back! There’s never been anything like it, there never will be again!”

Lennie signaled Lolo to get him a fresh Jack Daniel’s, and she left his side and moved toward the bar just as the phone rang under the canopy of the portable bar beside the nearest cabana.

22

Kelvin the butler was that day, among all his other chores, the bartender, the greeter, the towel boy, traffic cop, and, with Robert, parking lot attendant—and he answered the telephone by the bar.

“No,” he said, “she’s right here.” He placed his hand over the mouthpiece and looked at the knot of people surrounding Lennie at the shallow end of the pool. “It’s for you, Miss Rand.”

“Me?” Lolo asked, looking up in surprise. “Who—?”

“No—Miss Betsy.”

“Who is it?” Betsy asked.

Kelvin seemed confused. “I don’t know, Miss. Long distance. New York. The operator asked for you.”

Wally said, “Must be Brando. Sonofabitch . . . bad news. Always comes in threes.”

Nussbaum, in a mauve linen leisure suit covering his mass, wondered what were the other two?

“He’s backing out,” DeBrine speculated. “Shit, I knew it.”

“Better not be!” Lennie barked. “I’ll kick’m in the ass!”

Kelvin spoke into the phone. “May I ask who’s calling? . . . Oh . . . Yes, of course . . . ” He handed the phone to Betsy as she came to the bar, pushing her sunglasses high on her forehead and adjusting the bra strap on her white bikini. “It’s Katharine Hepburn,” he whispered, just loud enough for all to hear.

BETSY: Miss Hepburn! What a pleasant surprise! I mean, really—!”

HEPBURN: Yeah. Call me Kate. How are you? How’s the movie with Paul Newman going? Isn’t he fun to work with! I just love that little Jew! Only he’s not really so—little.

BETSY: Great! He’s just great! We’ll be done in about three, four more weeks. He’s a joy, great—what an actor to be with! Every day’s a learning experience!

HEPBURN: Yeah, he’s gorgeous. Nobody should look that good—handsomest guy working today, here or there. I’d rather have had him in Philadelphia Story than that old greaseball Cary Grant! Just kidding—he’s too young, anyway. Irene Selznick says you’ve got Marlon Brando for Rhett Butler—you and that crazy husband of yours—Gone With the Wind . . .

BETSY: Yes . . . exciting! It’s unbelievable! We start shooting this summer. I can’t wait . . .

HEPBURN: Right. Yes. Well. That’s why I’m calling. I’m here at my place in New York—Irene Selznick lives here, too—not here, exactly, with me. . . . She has an apartment at the Pierre—we’re very close—I see her quite often—dinner, drinks—you know, the usual stuff. . . . You know, of course, that her husband, David, produced the original Gone With the Wind—

BETSY: Yes! It was marvelous . . . we have a lot to strive for. I only hope we’re up to it.

HEPBURN: Umm. Yes. Right. Well, Irene, the dear, gave Marlon Brando his first big break—with Streetcar Named Desire. . . . She produced it on Broadway, the play, Tennessee Williams’s play, ran for two years. Elia Kazan directed it, and Marlon chased him all over New England for the part. . . . He did it on the screen, too, with Vivien Leigh—Brando, not Kazan—Elia, the Commie bastard, directed both the play and the film. Vivien won an Oscar, Brando got nominated—but it all started with Irene here . . .

BETSY: I know, I know! She did great things on Broadway . . . Miss Selznick, I mean.

HEPBURN: Bell, Book and Candle—The Chalk Garden—whole bunch of stuff.

BETSY: I know!

HEPBURN: Yes. Well. Anyway, that isn’t why I called. You know Vivien Leigh is a very close, dear friend of ours, of mine, Brando, Irene, too, a lot of us—Garson Kanin and I were the only two people present, as witnesses, when she and Larry Olivier finally got married. I was her matron—maid—of honor—whatever. . . . Well, anyway, she’s very ill, poor darling, dying actually, over in England, she’s got TB and—other stuff. She hasn’t very long, couple of months at best . . . and Irene and I were wondering if it were possible, if it might not be possible, for you to send a crew over to England and shoot a brief cameo with her—you know, maybe she could be written in as Rhett’s mother or older sister or something—give her a token scene of, I don’t know—aged, matriarchal memories of Rhett, say, a dream sequence, all gauzy, you know, their earlier life in South Carolina—it would be absolutely dynamic, explosive! . . . . What do you think?

BETSY (thinking without hesitation it was the worst idea she’d ever heard): Well . . . it, that sounds . . . interesting—but my husband, Wally Emerson, this is his project—he’s the, uh, producer and . . . everything.

HEPBURN: Of course. Can you put him on, let me talk with him?

BETSY (instantly certain that would be a terrible mistake—he would probably agree to it): No, no, I can’t, too bad, he actually was here at my dad’s place, having a swim—but he left . . . about ten minutes ago . . . production meeting, or some such nonsense—on a Sunday . . .

HEPBURN: Oh! . . . . Shoot, we should have called earlier—I never get the time changes right—it’s four here, what’s it there?

BETSY: Ah—little after one. He had to go over to the studio—to look at some—props. The, uh, Vivien Leigh thing—it’s really his call.

HEPBURN: Yes, I know, dear—but you’re the star. You and Marlon Brando. I know he’d love the idea. Why don’t you run it by him? He was her co-star in Streetcar, the movie. . . . God, she won an Oscar! Brando himself was nominated—he should have won. (To Irene): Who did?

IRENE SELZNICK (off-phone): Bogart, African Queen.

HEPBURN: Bad choice.

BETSY (deducing Katharine Hepburn did not know Brando was in New York): Okay. I’ll see what they both say. Maybe they’ll think it’s a great idea.

HEPBURN: Oh, it is! From a PR point—what a coup! Marlon Brando! Vivien Leigh! Betsy Rand! Listen—who’s doing the screenplay? We heard Thomas Wolfe . . . isn’t he dead?

BETSY: Who? . . . . No, you’re thinking of Thomas Wolfe, the “can’t go home again” guy. No, Wally was thinking of Tom Wolfe—

HEPBURN: Who? Oh, yes, him, I know who you mean, the magazine writer, always wears a white suit—I saw him in The New Yorker—you don’t want him!

BETSY: Well, we didn’t get him. Wally never followed up on it. We have Orin Farmer and his—

HEPBURN: Have you ever read Scott Berg? He’s whom you should have retained. What a great writer! Why didn’t you get Sidney Howard?—oh, Christ, that’s right, he died even before the Academy Awards—everybody’s dying off right and left, aren’t they?—and I don’t feel so well meself! Hah!! . . . . Oh, Irene, just reminded me: we’ll be in Los Angeles in a few weeks—I’m doing a thing called Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner with Spence—God, he’s so sick, sick as a dog! I’m not sure he’ll make it to the finish line, but we’ve got Gregory Peck standing by in the gate, just in case. Spence calls him “Greg” but to me he’s Mister Peck—I mean, when he talks to you, that voice of his! . . . . Anyway, would it be all right to drop in on your set and say hello? I assume you’ll be at MGM—Who’s directing? Stanley Kramer’s doing us. You should have George Cukor, you know, he was on board at first, but that asshole Selznick fired him—I’m sorry, Irene, but David was such an asshole—you divorced him, I didn’t! . . . We’ll be staying in his guesthouse, George’s, I mean, as usual—I don’t know where Spence will be, probably drunk in the Beverly Hills Hotel, with Francine Whatsherface or some slut . . .

A few minutes later, when Betsy hung up, her eyes were as wide and round as Minton saucers and her first comment to Wally was: “I just talked on the phone with the greatest actress in the world!”

Wally shook his head. “No, I don’t think so. Kate Hepburn just did.”

Before five more weeks had gone by, they were in Atlanta shooting exterior and random scenes for Today is Yesterday’s Tomorrow, and Betsy had fallen madly in love with Georgia’s capital city. Wally could not understand it. It was early August; the heat and humidity were unbearable. Even with the air conditioner going full blast in their suite at the Georgian Terrace, Betsy insisted they open all the windows, as well as the French doors to their eighteenth floor patio. “Just smell that!” she pleaded with her husband. “Lavender! Rhododendrons! Crepe myrtle! Jasmine! Rosemary! Ivy! . . . Atlanta is the most beautiful city in America! I love it here! Let’s sell everything and move here!”

Wally was on the bed in his boxer shorts, pages of script around him and every time he moved, more pages fluttered quietly to the floor. He watched Betsy in the doorway to the patio, and, as always, he thought to himself how extraordinarily beautiful she was—and how lucky he was. She stood in the slight breeze coming in from the west, her arms supporting each side of the door jam, wearing only a pair of khaki shorts: no shoes, no shirt, her back to him, and her breasts, which he could not see, pointing toward the deepening, cloudless sky from which the sun had already set, leaving a canopy of blue-black ink spread flawlessly overhead. She was in semi-silhouette, and he knew her back and shoulders, and the backs of her legs, were shining slick with perspiration. He wondered if anyone could see her from the roof of the Fox Theater across the street—no, their suite was too high; even if they could, so what? They would merely concur with him that he was the luckiest man alive. After a moment, she turned to face him. “Let’s take another shower,” she said.

Her love affair with Atlanta had begun the moment she laid eyes on the old Margaret Mitchell place, the Crescent Apartments, on Peachtree at 10th Streets. Standing on the sidewalk in a blistering sun with Wally and Roy Zessack, admiring the dilapidated structure, Betsy said, “It’s marvelous. I love it. It’s—grand! We could never reproduce such—majesty—back at MGM. . . . What’s the inside like?”

Wally looked quickly at Zessack, and the lawyer said, “Too much sun. Does it to Yankees all the time.”

The first thing Wally showed her in Apartment No. One, quickly by-passing the parlor and dining room, was the bedroom. “Perfect!” Betsy cried. “We can’t change a thing! We musn’t. The bed is . . . perfect. The chest of drawers . . . the window, the curtains . . . everything!”

“Lie down on the bed,” Wally requested. He looked at Zessack. “Roy, give us a moment . . .”

The lawyer raised his eyebrows. “You gonna do it now—right here?”

“Please . . . just a couple minutes.” Wally watched Roy Zessack leave with a sigh, muttering “actors,” closing the door behind him. Quickly, the instant the attorney was gone, Wally turned and collapsed on the bed. “Come here, Betsy—lie down with me.”

“Wally . . . ”

“No, sweetheart, I’m serious.” He extended his arm and held out his hand. “Come—lie down beside me.”

Reluctantly, but with only a mild body language protest, so slight Wally didn’t notice, Betsy removed her left loafer with the toe of her right, then the other, and at first sat on the edge of the bed until Wally’s outstretched hand touched her arm, and she leaned back and placed her head on the pillow next to his. He turned toward her and his lips were at her ear; he covered the lobe and sucked at it, nibbling gently. “You’re turning me on,” she said softly, and she moved her face to his. It was then that he kissed her—one of those leisurely, friendly kisses with no pressure or exploration, devoid of any licentious expectation, the kind of kiss with which every confident suitor plies his victim before advancing to more serious pillaging and plundering. “Roy is just in the next room,” she whispered, as if a caution of that nature would give Wally second thoughts; “Are we going to fuck with our clothes on?” Wally rolled closer to her and covered her left breast with his right hand. “I want you to close your eyes,” he said, “and pretend you are Peggy Mitchell—Peggy Marsh—and I am your husband—I’m John Marsh. Close your eyes. Listen to me. . . . You were married to Red Upshaw—Marlon Brando—but now you’re married to me. You really loved Upshaw. I was the best man at your wedding, and I was always in love with you, even though Upshaw was my roommate. But you married Upshaw, the sonofabitch. Now you’ve divorced him, the marriage’s gonna be annulled—he got drunk and beat the crap outta you, and now you’re married to me. I am the best thing that ever happened to you—we live here in this apartment, and you’re writing your book. When you were sick and laid up with a broken ankle, I brought you every book ever written on the Civil War, and after you’d read them all, there were no more to read—I said to you, go ahead then, write your own book, finish it up. I worked with you every night and proofread every page. And now it’s done. . . . It’s stored in large manila envelopes under this very bed. No one, nobody but me and your girl friend Lois Cole have ever seen it. You have no intention of ever getting it published—it will never see the light of day unless Lois or I talk you into it. All you want to do is be Missus John Marsh and work for the Atlanta Journal and write clever columns about the people here in Georgia and interview celebrities. You hate this apartment—you call it ‘the Dump’—but you don’t want to move.” He removed his hand, rolled closer to her, nearly on top of her, and kissed her again. She said, while he was kissing her, “Are you trying to hypnotize me?” He shook his head and the kiss was smeared. “Keep your eyes closed. Keep pretending you’re Peggy Mitchell. Keep thinking I’m John Marsh. Tell me you love me.” He waited while she pulled her face away from his. “Of course, I love you,” she said. “You’re my husband, the love of my life, I will always love you. If we do it right now, with Roy in the other room, will that prove it to you?” Wally sighed and shook his head. “No,” he said—“yes, that will prove Betsy loves Wally. This picture’s about Peggy loving John and John loving Peggy. . . . Keep your eyes closed! . . . This is their bed—our bed—this is where we make love and where you’ve hidden your manuscript. . . . I was on this bed just a few weeks ago, alone here, in here, on this bed with Peggy Mitchell—and we were going to make love, right here—and Roy was in the other room with Morrie—and we couldn’t have cared less. But while it was Peggy here beside me, it was you, not her—it was you on the bed with me, and all the time I thought it was Peggy, it was really you. . . . That’s why this picture is so important to do before we shoot Gone With the Wind. You see now how important this is? You see why you have to be Peggy, and I have to be John Marsh? Their story, believe it or not, is our story. He was Mister Margaret Mitchell. Like Jimmie Fidler says on the radio, I’m Mister Betsy Rand. Even when I was top dog with Rusted Spurs, all I ever cared about was, is, you and your career. My dream, my only purpose, is to make Gone With the Wind and make you—immortal! . . . . You get it now?”

The bedroom door creaked open, and Roy Zessack peered it. “All done now? Can I come in?”

23

The house in Malibu sold in less than two weekends, purchased by an English actor named Erlanger Ross, an unmarried young man who’d been hired by an aging Sam Goldwyn after Ross had starred successfully in a British version of Tarzan, a rollicking pot-boiler for Alexander Korda that did well in the UK but, for some reason, was never shown in America. Goldwyn, still looking for an actor who would gain fame equal to Ronald Colman and Gary Cooper made a split percentage deal for Ross and offered him a five year contract that would require him to stay in Hollywood until completing a movie a year for Goldwyn. Ironically, to Betsy and Wally’s delight, the Englishman fell in love with the three-story redwood monster overlooking the Pacific and paid them $5,000 more than the asking price.

“Why the hell would anyone want to live in Atlanta?” Lennie screamed at them both. To Wally he fumed: “Is that why I made you a big TV guy an’ letcha marry up my daughter?—so’s you could run off to live like some goddamn sharecropper in Georgia?” To Betsy: “You’re a movie star, for chrissake! You make movies in Hollywood, not in some place—whaddya call it?—‘the Dump,’—some backwater shanty on the Chattahoochee River, for God’s sake! That what this family’s comin’ to! Jaysus Haitch Crise!”

“Dad—”

“Doan ‘dad’ me, neither one a you. Nuff to drive me tuh drink,” Lennie said, sipping a fresh Jack Daniel’s Lolo had handed him as she said to Betsy, “I knew your father would be upset, sweetie.” She asked Wally if he’d like a drink. “Yeah,” the younger man said, “vodka onna rocks, ma’m, if you don’t mind. Please.”

“You know what I cain’t get a handle on?” Lennie said, wheeling his chair toward first Betsy, then Wally, “is what goes through the minda people these days. Here you both got careers a lotta people would drown their kids for—Betsy, you got Emmys and Oscars enough if you pawned ‘em, you could send a dozen brats through college—Wally, you asshole, you’re producin’ a epic Orson Welles can only dream about—an’ after Gone With the Wind, whaddya gonna do? Sit out there on your front porch in Georgia, swattin’ flies an’ wipin’ sweat off the watermelon an’ waitin’ fer the goddamn phone tuh ring? . . . .Well, listen, Bozo, it ain’t gonna ring! An’ when it does, it’s juss gonna be me’r Lolo here wantin’ to yak with Betsy! Movies’r made right here in Hollywood, not on street corners in Atlanta, or Dez Moines’r Skinny-Atlas! Jee-sus, you’d think you of all people would know better? . . . How much you guys pay taxes on last year? You think you’re ever gonna make that kinda money again, sitting out there inna quaggy peanut patch? Shoot! Sure. Maybe Betsy’s gonna get jobs for movies—but, shoot, she’s gotta come out here for six, eight, ten weeks, six moths, a year! every time Trent’r Sam Goldwyn’r somebody gets a hard-on for a big time novel or play they wanna make a movie out of, so whaddaya gonna do, come back home and work yore ass off all day and then talk to Wally onna phone all night? Well, not on my nickel, you ain’t! I’ll tell ya that!”

Wally remained silent, nursing his drink. He knew better than to speak up, to interfere. He and Betsy, flying home to Los Angeles from Atlanta in NBC’s The Flying Peacock, knew what Lennie’s reaction would be. “Your father’s gonna shit a brick,” Wally had said, somewhere over Missouri.

“True,” Betsy concurred, “but that’s—his problem. He still doesn’t get it. The industry is changing. It doesn’t matter where people live anymore. Movies can be made anywhere. Katharine Hepburn proved that. She’s lived in New York and Connecticut for God-know-how-many years, and she works just as much as she wants to. Look at Broadway. How many times has she starred there? And movies. Look at the movies she’s done! Who cares about living in Hollywood anymore? Look at Paul Newman—even Marlon Brando. Nobody lives there, unless they’re nuts’r old-school’—you know, like the Powells, the O’Briens—hell, where else can they live? And what difference does it make? Their phones are never going to ring anyway . . . ”

“Don’t be cruel,” Wally said. “Besides, a lot of people live out here, and they’d never go back East. Be nice. Don’t be nasty.”

“I’m not. But—be realistic. We can live anywhere. Even when we can’t use Morrie’s plane, jets fly from the East Coast to the West Coast damn near as fast as sending a fax—saying, yeah, I’ll be in your fucking picture, just send me script and a check for a few million, and I’ll be there next Tuesday! . . . . Lennie and Lolo have no idea how wonderful Atlanta is—how could they? . . . . Listen, I want to sell our place in Malibu—I never liked it anyway, and neither did you, admit it—I want to move into the Margaret Mitchell place, live there, take care of it, make it our place—then after Today is Yesterday’s Tomorrow’s in the can, I want to go on living there while we shoot Gone With the Wind, then when that’s gone, I want to buy land outside of Atlanta and—build a brand new Tara, just like the one in the novel—only with air conditioning and electricity and indoor plumbing. That’s where I want to live—with you, Wally—Rhett. Hah! Hah! What am I?—twelve years old again? Only seriously, I want to live in ‘the Dump’ until Tara’s built. I want to see the Margaret Mitchell House be what it should be—a living tribute to a true American icon, a place that will be there for—generations—to come and visit and—understand what it means to be a . . . true American icon—”

Wally could respond only with: “Wow.”

After dinner that night at Bar Amateurs, when the angst had subsided, the initial dust of disagreement and concern had settled and they were enjoying après-culinary festivities, Wally outlined their plans in more definite, if less arbitrary, terms as they sat on the porch in the quiet of the San Fernando evening to watch what was left of the California sunset. “Betsy’s idea is very sound, very serious,” he said. “Yeah,” Lennie groused, “sounds it.” Wally intentionally ignored his father-in-law and braced for further sniping and caustic interruptions, though, as it turned out, there were very few. “Here’s the current scenario,” he said, sipping his vodka tonic from time to time: “Once Orin Farmer and his staff finalize a script for Today is Yesterday’s Tomorrow the way Betsy and I, all of us, you and Trent and Lolo, like it, we’ll head out for Atlanta to shoot all the stuff there we have to do there—Betsy, me, Trent and his crew, Brando, Terry, the Faucette girls—you, too, Lolo, if you wanna be in on it, I know we’re going to need you—and Morrie and everybody else involved. We’ve got Morrie’s NBC Flying Peacock for as long as we need it, and when we have to, depending on how many people we need here in California and down there in Atlanta, we can either fly commercial or charter a plane from Eastern—they said it would be no problem if we could give the twelve hours’ notice. We will book whatever space necessary at the Georgian Terrace, and if they’re booked up, well, there’re other places—Trent says there’s plenty of processing, editing, and studio space available in Atlanta and all the equipment we’ll need, except for the Panavision cameras MGM will supply—truth is, the Georgia Film Commission would like to have us shoot both pictures there in their entirety, which isn’t a bad idea, just impractical as hell—they’ve even said they would subsidize our room and board for as long as required and give us all the tech help we need, but there are too many people with too many commitments to do it all down there. Brando, for one, Betsy for the other—she’s got post-production work still hanging on the Paul Newman piece, and besides, I don’t care what the GFC thinks they can do, nobody can provide better interiors and working conditions than MGM. Brando is so adamant about getting out of Atlanta as soon as possible he insists we shoot all his scenes—for both pictures—first, ahead of everything else, in Atlanta, then here in Hollywood . . .”

Lennie leaned forward in his wheelchair. “You dint agree tuh that, didja?”

“Yes, of course,” Wally nodded. “Lennie, look, we only got him for about three weeks total for the first one, and we gotta get him done on Wind in ten weeks or less, preferably less. So, once we get to Atlanta, the shooting sked will focus on him right away. Same when we get back to LA . . . We’re in the midst of some serious excitement, Betsy and me. One thing is certain: we are moving to Atlanta.” Under his breath, Lennie murmured, “Kid’s nuts.” Wally nodded. “May be, but it’s where she wants to be, it’s where I want to be, where we can live and work exactly like the way we want—I know this is going to be hard to swallow, but for the time being, we want to move into the Crescent Apartments where Margaret Mitchell wrote most of her book. While we’re shooting Today is Yesterday’s Tomorrow, we will live—work—and shoot—right there in Apartment Number One. Most of the rest of the crew will take rooms at the Georgian Terrace, or someplace—the writers and Trent and those who want to can move into the Margaret Mitchell place—there’s plenty of space—I want the writers there for obvious reasons—we’ll get rid of the Georgia Tech students, the homeless bunch, the winos, all the others—and once we buy the land and get the new Tara built, when the movie’s done, Betsy and I will move in there. When she has a picture she wants to do, or TV to do, she’ll fly back here or go to New York to do—whatever she has to do . . .”

Lennie sat in his wheelchair and stared at his folded hands. He looked like he was about to cry. “Shoot,” he said, “what about your ma and pa?”

“What about them? They’ll stay right here, in California, in Encino. My dad has his market to run, and Mom is still treasurer of this company. She’s got to be close to Burbank and MGM. Maybe someday—” He broke off. “They have no interest in moving back East—and why would they? Their life is here, for now at least. If they ever want to retire and come to Atlanta—same as for you and Lolo—hell, even if you only come to visit!—Tara’s going to be big enough—three times the size of Bar Amateurs—hell, there’ll be land and houses, a real compound, room for anybody—everybody!”

“Sounds like a pipedream,” Lennie said. Lolo added, sadly, “Nothing’s ever gonna be the same again. I never had any idea it would come to this.”

What it came to was mass confusion, sixteen-hour days, and the essence of movie magic. But for Betsy and Wally, it was the happiest, most productive time of their lives.

“My name’s Isadore Frankel,” the young man said—“everyone calls me Izzy.” He stood in the doorway of Apartment No. 8 with his arms stretched out, hands on each side of the jam, blocking their entrance. He was thin to the point of emaciation, quite tall, his hair straggly and uncut, and his skin the pallor of curdled milk, rough and sore, like old cottage cheese. But he was impressively handsome, a sharply cut figure with a wide, determined, and dimpled chin, a short but pointed nose the tip of which fluctuated slightly, in profile, as he spoke—a young matinee idol-type who might have made one memorable picture before having been caught in a sleazy motel with the sixteen-year-old daughter of a major mogul. Adios, career! He was dressed in faded jeans and a tattered GT sweater that recently had been a banquet for moths; his feet were clad in ruptured Keds, sans socks. Even from a distance there was a rancid air about him. Wally and Betsy looked at him and made no judgments; they were on a fact-finding mission.

“I’m Wally Emerson. This—”

“I know who you are. I watch you on TV all the time.” He looked at Betsy. “You, too—lady, you made some good movies. Betsy . . . ”

“Rand,” Betsy said. “Missus Emerson.”

“Yeah.”

Wally said, “May we come in? We’re you’re, well, sort of, new landlords.”

Izzy Frankel shuffled his feet but did not drop his arms. “I’m, well, kinda busy right now.”

Wally felt his patience dwindling. “Yeah, well, so are we. We just moved in downstairs, and we kinda want to get to know—you know—meet our neighbors . . .”

Frankel looked genuinely surprised. “You two?—you guys?—movin’ in here? In this shithole?. . . ‘Scuse me, ma’m . . .”

“I know,” Betsy said, “it seems sorta odd—but for the time being, we own this place, in a way, and we’re going to be your, you know, landlords . . . until we throw your ass out in the street—which may well be this afternoon! So, let us in, Izzy!” Betsy’s eye contact never wavered.

The young tenant hesitated and glared at Betsy, then he stepped back, off to one side, dropping his arms, and let them enter. The room, to Wally and Betsy’s surprise, was practically empty—except for two ragged lawn chairs, aluminum frames bent in odd places and laced with old, tattered plastic strips, a long and battered table, three unmade army cots, and, hiding in the corner, a 19” black and white Magnavox with rabbit ears. There was no carpeting in this room, and the bare floor seemed to be the original underlayment, rough and discolored with moisture and what could have been mold. One leaded window was framed by thin, filthy curtains and dimmed by a faded shade that was torn and askew. A heavy odor of unknown substances was repugnant; its base might have been old eggs that were cracked and left for days in a blazing sun, but the stench now was expanded to include many foul particles, and both Betsy and Wally instinctively breathed in short spasms of staccato gasps. “What the hell is that—smell?” Wally asked, amidst tiny breaths. “Stuff . . . cookin’,” Izzy replied, nonplussed, “inna kitchen.”

“Stuff? Dope?” Betsy was aghast. “Like . . . narcotics?”

Izzy pursed his lips together and shrugged with the lower part of his face, raising his broad, bony shoulders half an inch. “Yeah . . . I guess so. Sorta like narcotics, but . . . different. Not like marijuana—you Hollywood folk’s know what I mean.” His voice, similar in quality to his attire, was collegiate Good Will. “Shit’s not really dope, not like heroin or cocaine—well, yeah, sorta like that. I mean, stuff’s different, you know what I mean? Cheaper, better, easier to get, like you don’t . . . need it much, like all the time, like everyday . . . just when you want to, want some. . . . You guys want some?”

Wally glanced at Betsy, who suddenly brought up her hands in front of her, palms facing downwards, and examined her fingernails. “No, thanks,” Wally said, moving toward an opening he knew led to the kitchen. Neither Betsy nor Frankel followed him as he peered inside.

There was one large wooden table in the center of the room. It was covered with a plethora of paraphernalia: pint size Mason jars, boxes of Contac 12-hour cold tablets, surgical tubing, rubbing alcohol, gallon jugs of Muratic acid, Coleman lantern fuel and Acetone, coffee filters, an electric skillet plugged into the wall by means of a nine foot extension cord, a scale marked in grams, a half dozen bottles of 2% tincture iodine and a quart of hydrogen peroxide. The sink was beneath a window covered in heavy cardboard; on the drain by the sink were king-size Coke bottles, some empty, some containing a clear liquid, a can of Red Devil lye, a dozen boxes of match books, Exacto razor blades, and a couple gallons of distilled water. On the floor, on the last existing piece of ancient linoleum, was a Pyrex baking dish; sticking out of the dish was a roll of aluminum foil.

Over his shoulder, Wally asked, “This what you use?”

“Yeah, we make the shit, yeah, outta that stuff, mostly,” Izzy said, from the living room. “We were cooking some before you came in. That’s what you smell, mostly.”

“We?”

Frankel came into the kitchen. “Uh, no—just me. My roommates moved out a couple days, a week or so, ago. Just me left. . . . Jonathan’s a senior, like me, anyway, so he and Theresa—she’s a junior—moved closer to the GT campus, over on Luckie Street. They took mosta the good customers with ‘em. They’re talkin’ about getting married.” Betsy, following him into the kitchen, asked if he too was at Georgia Tech. “Yeah. Senior, like I said . . . and, yeah, before you ask, I’m majoring in biochemistry, aeronautic paint—you know—for airplanes—exteriors. . . . This is kid stuff, I know what I’m doing with this shit.”

“I hope so,” Wally said. “Come downstairs with us—I can’t stand this smell—we gotta talk.”

Back in their own apartment—No. One—Wally steered the young college student to the dining room table and pulled out a chair for him, fearing he might sit on the living room sofa or settee. Betsy took a seat across from him, and Wally stood at the head of the table, his back to the kitchen. “Izzy—may I call you Izzy?”

“Sure. You the boss, man.”

“Izzy—Miss Rand and I are going to be living here, in this apartment, for a few weeks, while my company shoots a movie on the, uh, life of Margaret Mitchell. I assume you know who she was. . . .” Izzy Frankel nodded: “Sure. She wrote Gone With the Wind. . . . Right?” Wally leaned forward with both hands on the table and replied, “Yes, that’s right. She wrote it, most of it, right here in this apartment—probably right here at this table. . . . Anyway, we’ll be shooting exteriors and parts of the movie here, in this place, and other sites in Atlanta. A lot of the cast and crew will be moving into this building, and a lot of reconstruction and remodeling will be going on, as well as a lot of filming. . . . You know the actor Marlon Brando?” Izzy’s eyes widened as he looked up at Wally. “Yeah—sure! Jesus! Is he moving in here, too?” Betsy smiled at that. “No,” she said, “I doubt he’ll be living here—but you never know. He’ll be around for a week or ten days . . .” Wally straightened up. “Point is, we’ve got to start getting this place in shape. How much rent you pay?” Izzy told him he didn’t pay rent. “None at all?” Wally inquired, raising his voice with minor incredulity. Izzy shook his head. “When I first came here, they said we should send them ten or twenty bucks a week. . . .” “They? Who’s they?” Izzy said he didn’t know—“a couple of fellows who came around now and then—one was an attorney, I think, maybe they both were. They said we could stay here as long as we wanted, Theresa and Jonathan and me, if we’d, you know, keep the place up and keep the homeless people and the hookers and their johns from wandering in and out all the time. They said the place was eventually going to be torn down for some shopping mall or something, but we could stay here until . . . until then.”

“I see,” Wally said, turning his back suddenly and walking into the living room. He stopped at the coffee table and came around. “Well . . . okay, Izzy, tell me about the drugs. . . .”

“The shit?”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah, well,” Izzy started, “not much to tell, really, Mister Emerson. After we moved in, we began making the shit and selling it on campus to students and to, you know, other people who got wind of it—we got a pretty big clientele going in a short while—it’s pretty popular with college kids and, uh, a lot of others. Just be sure a one thing, though: neither Theresa, Jonathan, or me ever used the stuff—we’re all biochemical majors, and we know what shit like that does to your central nervous system, but there’s a big mother market for it out there—so much so, we even had to cut the police in on the action—or they said they were going to throw our ass in jail. . . . ‘Scuse me, Miss Rand.” Izzy looked over at Betsy as though he was seeing her for the first time. “You know,” he said, “betcha hear it till you’re sick of it, but I gotta tell you, you’re a lot prettier for real than on the tube. You’re a dead ringer for Peggy Ann Garner!—or Katharine Ross!”

Betsy broke up laughing at that. “Are you sure you don’t drink that drug stuff? I don’t look any more like those girls than—than you look like Joel McRae!”

“Well, I think you do. . . . Who’s Joel McRae?”

Wally was back in the dining room. He asked, “How much you make making that drug stuff, as Miss Rand calls it?”

Izzy’s hands flailed the air in front of him. “I dunno. Six, eight hundred dollars a week.”

“What!” Wally and Betsy expounded, simultaneously. “How much?”

“Sometimes,” he said, “on a good week, depending who’s on shift at the police station in this precinct, and if there’s a football game at Grant Field, we might split as much as a grand’r a grand and a half. Who knows? The market goes up and the market goes down. . . . Just like Coca-Cola.”

“Well,” Wally said with finality in his tone, “I’m afraid the market’s about to hit rock bottom. We want all that stuff outta your apartment as fast as you can fill garbage bags.”

“But—”

“No buts.”

“I mean, what about me?”

“What about you?”

“Where’m I supposed to go?”

“Drag all that crap over to Luckie Street and go live with Jonathan and—Whatsherface.”

“Theresa.”

“Yeah—Theresa. . . . Or—tell ya what, Izzy—let’s make a deal. . . . You wanna live here? Get rid of all that paraphernalia upstairs. Clean the place up. Get your act together, air the place out—and you can stay here and help get the place in shape. No rent. No strings. No roomies. And—no shit. . . . ” Wally had a sudden inspiration. “And . . . I’m making you—whaddya think, Betsy?—Facilities Manager, Wind Pictures, Ink. A hundred a week, in charge of overseeing ‘the Dump.’ For the next month an’a half, anyway. . . . Then, you go graduate—and paint airplanes. Deal?”

The filming of Today is Yesterday’s Tomorrow, in spite of Marlon Brando and his entourage, went more smoothly than anyone, particularly Wally, Betsy, and Trent DeBrine, expected. The script, credited to Orin Farmer but mostly by Don Olenet, was, after a few revisions, precisely what Wally wanted. With Wally now coming into his own as a producer, his script suggestions and re-writes took on a significant credibility that denoted a true talent for the insights of characterization and dialogue. Even Morris Nussbaum saw the metamorphic transformation from adequate actor to responsible creator of action as it related to reality and outcome. Wally somehow possessed an almost supernatural ‘feeling’ for why people from all walks of life said and did the things only he, sometimes, saw and heard them say and do. When Margaret Mitchell, for example, was denied membership in Atlanta’s Junior League because she smoked cigarettes, drank Bourbon whiskey and bathtub gin, and liked to dance in short skirts with her ‘stockings rolled,’ DeBrine wanted her to throw a fit and denounce her female peers as—according to Olenet’s script—“a bunch of doe-eyed, supercilious, fat-assed, flat-chested hypocrites who probably think Susan B. Anthony was some kind of nose-hair who couldn’t get into even a Yankee Junior League because she was the kind of witch who always flew off the handle!”—punctuated by smashing a highball glass in the fireplace. Although the simile was probably accurate, Wally wasn’t convinced Peggy Mitchell would have made such a statement—nor reacted so violently with good and hard-to-come-by whisky—while discussing her disappointment with her fiancé, Red Upshaw. Wally asked DeBrine to re-shoot the scene between Betsy and Brando with Margaret saying, almost off-hand, “By the way, the fine ladies of the Junior League turned me down—again.” Brando, pouring bourbon into their highball glasses, glanced up and said, “Why’s that, lovey-gal?” Betsy, tilting her head and shrugging with her eyes, replied, “I dunno . . . but so what? Tomorrow’s another day.” Brando, smiling with that unmistakable twinkle in his voice, said, “Sure is, baby doll—juss like I always say!” The cut back to Betsy was classic tolerance of the absurd. DeBrine glanced at Nussbaum while they watched the dailies: “Kid’s a fuckin’ genius, isn’t he?” Nussbaum nodded. “Yeah. I hate to admit it.”

Marlon Brando’s entourage consisted of seven people, most of whom had assignments and purposes no one could begin to explain. Seymour Niquest was the actor’s supposed agent, although it was never ascertained what agency, exactly, he worked for. Jean Decchi, his hair stylist and a woman of at least sixty, was, it was learned, married to Niquest. Johnny and Jerry Ellanski were brothers, ages eighteen and twenty-three, who performed primarily as Brando’s valets and wardrobe crew; both were homosexuals and Brando’s occasional lovers who shared his suite at the Georgian Terrace. Reginald Wardlaw, a thin, bearded Negro, was his driver—they rented a limousine for transportation of his entire staff between the hotel, the house on Peachtree and 10th Streets, the Abbott Studios in Kennesaw, the Piedmont Club, and wherever else it was necessary for them to be—and wherever Brando wanted to be when they were not shooting. Beth Garfield and Kathy Dekker were two alleged young movie hopefuls whose roles were never defined beyond “gophers—you know, they bring me stuff—they take care a me,” Marlon Brando explained. In what manner they ‘took care’ of Brando was never determined, except there seemed a permanent animosity between the gophers and the gay brothers.

Betsy wanted to know, “Who’s paying for all these people?”

“I don’t know,” Wally said.

“Us?” Nussbaum asked.

“Not us,” Wally assured him, scribbling a note on his pad to tell Doris if any chits arrived for these peoples’ expenses, even room and board, she was to disregard them. Later that day he pulled Brando aside. “Who’s taking care of your people?”

“Doan worry bout hit,” the actor mumbled. “Juss cover their rooms at the hotel.”

“No way.” Wally shook his head. “They can stay up at the Margaret Mitchell place. I’ll tell Izzy Frankel to fix ‘em up.”

Brando puffed out his cheeks. “Wotever y’say, boss. OK by me. I cover my gang. I take care of’m . . . but I ain’t stayin’nat shithouse. Neither they. I pay up f’em.”

Today is Yesterday’s Tomorrow ‘wrapped’ in under three weeks, and Wally proclaimed, “An epic it is not.” It was well-written for a made-for-TV-movie, the scenes were colorful, concise, and cleverly shot; the Atlanta exteriors were accurate depictions of the first two score years of the twentieth century—even the few early scenes of Margaret’s life as a child growing up amidst wealth and privilege were meticulous and believable, as were her juvenile attempts to create and jot down stories about her life in ‘the South’—but overall it was too accurate, too close to the humdrum of everyday existence. A local teenage actress name Julia Ardston, who somewhat resembled Betsy as a youngster, was hired to portray the child Peggy Mitchell up until just before the time she became engaged to a young socialite named Clifford Henry who, sadly but true to the cliché, was killed in France during World War One. The Mitchell family—father Eugene was a highly successful attorney and president of the Atlanta History Center, while mother Maybelle was a renowned suffragette—lived on a magnificent estate in Jonesboro, just south of Atlanta. Wally found the perfect place to shoot many scenes of that era at an isolated mansion near the Abbott Studios in Kennesaw, northwest of Atlanta, and he cast Lolo as the mother and Lennie as the senior Mr. Mitchell, always seated on the porch, at the dinner table, or in the gazebo, with his wheelchair nowhere in sight. These random scenes, even the one with Peggy’s beloved grandmother (played by Beverly Follett, freckles and all, and made up to look sixty-five years old—believed by many, erroneously, to be a cameo by Mary Astor, though no credit was shown) lasted less than ninety seconds—with lines of a quality lasting less. By the time Peggy went from private Woodberry School to Smith College, Betsy had taken over and convincingly conveyed all the anguish of losing her Clifford Henry in the war and coming out, with similar anguish, as a debutante at the Piedmont Club. More than one critic said it was that scene at Atlanta’s most prestigious private club, above all others, that landed her an Emmy when she entertained the crowd with a pas de deux in a skimpy outfit, a dance of questionable taste that required licentious movements and total disregard for the moral idiosyncrasies of the day. By today’s standards it would have been little more than humorous burlesque, but in 1918 it was downright scandalizing. In actual life, Margaret’s partner was a Georgia Tech student whose true identity had slipped into obscurity; with a further stroke of genius Wally hired Isadore Frankel, who turned out to be a surprisingly quick study and agile amateur dancer, to work with Betsy and the choreographer, Maniya Fedele, to help Peggy ‘cut a rug.’ Izzy asked what he would be paid for his effort, and Wally snapped, “Scale, which your aren’t worth!—and continued employment as our Facilities Manager for another few weeks’r so!” The performance, as depicted in Today is Yesterday’s Tomorrow, led to Margaret’s blackballing at the Junior League—a penalty augmented by her employment as a writer for the local newspaper, something ladies just did not do. After suddenly leaving Smith College days prior to graduation, when her mother unexpectantly died during an influenza epidemic, she was catapulted into the waiting arms of Berrien ‘Red’ Upshaw, played with diabolic but admirable restraint by Marlon Brando. Wally himself played the major role of John Marsh, the gentleman who effectively ‘saved’ Margaret from her disastrous marriage to Upshaw (the eventual model for Rhett Butler) and subsequently became her second husband; while she was nursing a broken ankle acquired on a loose floorboard on ‘the Dump’s’ front porch, Marsh literally badgered her into writing Gone With the Wind (“You’ve read every book on the Civil War they got in the library, Peggy!—Why doncha write one a your own?”) Their marriage so closely paralleled Betsy and Wally’s idyllic union that audiences sat totally absorbed and misty-eyed until the end, ten years after Peggy had reached the zenith of her fame, when the Pulitzer Prize-winning author was struck down and killed while crossing Peachtree Street, a scant three blocks from the Dump. On their way to the movies to see A Canterbury Tale starring Eric Portman (whom Peggy had always thought would have been much better than Leslie Howard as Ashley Wilkes,) she and John had been walking gaily along the sidewalk, talking and laughing, holding hands, talking about a short story she was working on, when suddenly Peggy had broken away and, alone, stepped off the curb without looking—and it was all over. An instant quick cut, a close up, of the look on Wally’s face earned him a companion Emmy to Betsy’s. “Goddamn it,” Tom Sarnoff, David’s son, later said to a TV interviewer, “that bastard could make a Republican cry.” The movie, however, though never openly panned (“after all,” wrote the New York Times, “it was only a made-for-TV flick,”) did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm already building around the world for a new Gone With the Wind.

Betsy and Wally moved into the Dump permanently the day after everyone—Lenny, Lolo, Trent DeBrine, the writers, Beverly, Isabelle, the entire crew—flew home temporarily to L.A. Morris Nussbaum and Marlon Brando, sans his entourage, stayed on at the Georgian Terrace an extra day while Wally and Betsy, with Izzy’s help, began decorating and re-furnishing Apartment No. One at the Margaret Mitchell place; and then Wally and Brando took NBC’s The Flying Peacock and hastened to New York with Nussbaum where they had been summoned to meet with the legal staff, board members and others at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, while Brando fulfilled a commitment for a round of personal appearances. Betsy remained in Atlanta, determined, with Izzy’s help, to make Peggy and John Marsh’s apartment into a livable place for Wally and her. Lennie, boarding The Flying Peacock at Charlie Brown Airport, shook his head and said, “Girl’s nuts.”

23

“Does anybody here,” David Sarnoff asked, “besides me, have any idea what we’ve gotten ourselves into?”

The boardroom on the 53rd floor of the RCA Building, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, Radio City Music Hall, The Rainbow Room, headquarters of NBC Radio and TV between 47th and 49th Streets and 5th and 6th Avenues in New York City, borough of Manhattan, state of New York, commanded a view on three sides that may have been incomparable in that or any other metropolis in 1967. It was considered by many—and not just Americans—to be the most coveted real estate on the continent, accounting for why several major powers vied for office space from the 12th floor of any available tower, on up. Japan, Germany, India, Thailand, the USSR, Bolivia, Australia, Great Britain, France, Spain—to mention an incomplete roster—maintained secure, diplomatic offices wherever possible in the complex, with the most favored nations blessing themselves if they were lucky enough to claim the RCA Building itself as their address. Even after the United Nations building became available in 1950, many tenants refused to move, recognizing the central location and exquisite digs at Rockefeller Center were much more desirable than the grim vistas of the East River and East 49th Street and New Jersey. Wally, sitting at the twenty-foot mahogany conference table, was sure he could see foreigners scurrying about in offices situated across the complex. He reached to his left and touched Morris Nussbaum’s arm; with his other hand, he pointed out the tall window behind him, and Nussbaum followed his gesture to an adjacent structure across the way, to another window where two people, a man and a women, obviously Oriental, were bent over a desk and discussing matters of certain nationalistic concern. Nussbaum nodded, subtly pulling his arm away, and indicating with a further nod they should be giving David Sarnoff their undivided attention. Wally’s gaze slid away from the window and focused on the small, neatly attired board chairman at the far end of the table, a balding man whose blue-gray eyes literally twinkled, and whose face, at seventy-six, was smooth and bland, slightly dimpled, and capable of instantaneous shifts from focused concern to devilish merriment. To see him, Wally had to look beyond Morris Nussbaum, Walter Young, Sy Fraser, Homer Gladstone, Eccles Juno, and Buddy Gernon— a host of well scrubbed, beautifully coiffed, and exquisitely clothed executives and attorneys seated on his side of the huge conference table. It was Sarnoff’s hands, however, Wally found most intriguing—hands that moved constantly, touching each other fondly, as if one relied on the other to achieve some sort of perfection their owner could be proud of. Unlike most of the others in the room, no jewelry distracted either hand—no rings nor bracelets—his watch was an unobtrusive Longines-Wittnauer on a standard leather band; it was so obviously worn for the sole purpose of telling time that Wally assumed it must have been a gift from one of the board chairman’s grandchildren.

David Sarnoff. The General. The man, the genius from Belarus, the rabbinical student and high school dropout who had guided the fortunes of RCA and NBC for so many years, his only credentials obtained from on-the-job training and a natural talent for management and technology. Neither an inventor nor a scientist, Sarnoff’s commanding presence at the center of the cavernous Rockefeller edifice was mesmerizing in the huge conference room less than a stone’s throw from his private office, located down the winding hall where he and Wally had first met just an hour ago.

“So . . .” Sarnoff had said, his voice surprisingly deep and robust, erupting suddenly from the small, compact man, “Wally Emerson—at last! I hope you don’t mind I tossed Morrie and the others outta here, but I wanted some time alone with you.”

“No, not at all. Sir.”

“They tell me you got your start at one of our affiliates upstate.”

“Well, not exactly. I got my first job for a while at an indie, almost right outta high school.”

“Yeah, well, that doesn’t really count, does it?”

“I . . . guess not.” Wally sat in a tufted armchair across from Sarnoff’s desk, a slab of rich mahogany crafted like the bow of a small schooner—behind which the board chairman stood, his thumbs temporarily locked in the pockets of his vest, looking somewhat like an aging Charles Laughton surveying his command from the poop deck of the HMS Bounty. The younger man fantasized the elder entrepreneur as an amazingly handsome senior citizen sent straight from central casting to play the lead in his Wally’s new production, The David Sarnoff Story. “I’m glad to have an opportunity to, uh, thank you personally for your, uh, donation and—support.”

Sarnoff smiled, causing a dimple to slide up and down his smooth jowls. “Sure!” he said. “My pleasure.”

“I really mean it.”

“I know you do. But that’s not why I decided to do what I could to back you up. I think you’re on to something, this idea—you know, re-doing Gone With the Wind—it’s something I think somebody should have thought to do a long time ago. I thought maybe Sam Goldwyn might take a crack at it, but—well—probably just as well he didn’t. . . . It’s a—mind-boggling undertaking—in fact, I was toying with the idea, off and on, about five years ago, myself. I think I even said something to Morrie Nussbaum—he probably just laughed. Problem is, I got so damn much other stuff going on, I been bouncing around a lot lately, and I don’t think a lot of stuff gets done at all—like it used to—unless I do it myself. It’s a . . . round robin, a catch twenty-two—Hah! Twenty-two and a half, you wanna know the truth!” Sarnoff sighed and Wally thought of a magician he’d once featured on a WNGD show who’d started making little animals out of skinny balloons, and when they didn’t come out right, which most didn’t, he let the air escape noisily as he abandoned the trick and let the balloons fly all over the room. “I think,” the General continued, “I’m getting old, too old for . . . all of this. It’s no secret, the word is all over the street—I’m gonna retire in a couple years. I love the fight, but I hate doing the battle anymore. I’d rather let the others, guys like you, and my boys, do the new stuff . . . different stuff—the impossible stuff. I’m just glad we’re a part of the deal, even though it’s an impossible task. I love it. I’m glad you’re doing it. . . . I wish one a my boys had come up with it and tackled it, like you and your wife have. How is your wife? Betsy Rand. God, what an actress! . . . I wish she’d come with you, but Morrie told me she’s all tied up. What’s she doing? . . . . You know, she’s one of my favorites—as well as her mother and dad—you, too, young man—I wish you’d gone another couple years with Rusted Spurs, I loved Freddie Lassiter . . . but then. . . . We made a ton of money with that series, and it proved my theory even more: the success of any television network depends solely on its number of viewers. Sarnoff’s Law. Hah! Hah!”

The General’s laugh, supported by his smile and twinkling eyes, was infectious, and Wally joined him for a brief chuckle. Sarnoff came around the desk, now caressing one hand with the other, and sat on the edge closest to Wally. “But it’s serious,” he said, “a lot of money—and prestige—at stake. I got no idea how you’re gonna pull this off—how you’re going to keep complete control and not go off half-cocked. Twenty years ago, I coulda figured it out. I’m really pleased we’re a part of it, but I don’t envy the, uh, road you got ahead of you. Don’t let the people in the meeting today put you off. They’ll come on like this is the worst idea God ever created, but just answer their questions as brief and to the point as possible, and ignore the negatives. Don’t try to hoodwink them or double-talk them—that’s my department—they didn’t get where they are bein’ dumb. . . . You know how to handle it. . . . I’ve wanted to do something like this for a long time. . . . I should be asking you, not telling you this. How much money you want to step aside—and let me handle it? . . . . Hah! Hah! I’m just kidding! . . . . But this company—NBC, RCA—don’t ever confuse it—this company is no democracy. I’m not a president or CEO or a chairman of the board. I’m a dictator, an out-and-out dictator—and a lot of people will tell you I’m a ruthless sonofabitch. A lot of people, most of them in Washington, think that’s true. But that isn’t true. It’s a goddamn lie! My wife will tell you that—Lizette and I have been together now, what is it?—Jesus, fifty years! She knows more about this business, my business, than I do myself. Between her and Erica, my right hand, I could die tomorrow, just die and walk outta here, and they could take over, and nothing would change. I may be the General—you know, I was the president’s, Eisenhower’s, communications consultant—wasn’t for me we probably wouldn’t have sonar and radar, we’d probably lost the war—Eisenhower himself gave me this star—” he touched the silver star in his lapel—“made me a brigadier general—Brigadier General David Sarnoff—yeah, well, maybe I’m more’n that, maybe I’m an emperor, or, well, just a plain dictator—yeah, that’s what I am . . . but I’m a benevolent dictator, not like Genghis Kahn or Stalin or Hitler and that bunch. I want you to succeed, because when you do, so do I, and so do all my troops. If you don’t, well then, I will tell Morrie to cut off your head and throw what’s left in the garbage.”

“Mister Sarnoff—” Wally started.

“No, hold on.” Sarnoff let go of his hands, stood up, adjusted the pleat in his trousers, and resumed his perch on the edge of the desk. “I’m not being too rough on you, am I? I don’t mean to be. I just—want you—to be sure you pull this off, can pull it off. Remakes are a bear, they almost never come out any good. Name me one re-make that was ever any good. Have you got enough money to pull this off? If not, I can show you ways to get more. This one’ll be especially tough—you know why? It’s because the original is so damn good. Everyone says it is, anyway. But who’s kidding who? It was good, but sure not great. I’ve seen it maybe a dozen times—Lizette and I watched it again just the other night when I told her you were coming to New York. It was okay. . . . Well, not all that good or else we wouldn’t care so much—the writing was weak, the casting on the second level was awful. Tom Mitchell was wrong—some scenes with Leslie Howard were okay, but some were out-and-out disasters, like the one in the barn when Scarlett tries to con him outta the tax money—Victor Jory, Randy Brooks, Ward Bond—awful—worst example is the kid who played Bonnie Blue, whoever she was we never heard of her again, thank God— everybody now says they should have waited five years and cast Margaret O’Brien who wasn’t even born yet in the part—but a lot of people think it’s the greatest piece of crap since . . . since The Hunchback of Notre Dame, if you see what I mean.” Wally didn’t, but he said nothing. “What I mean is—you know, I got a call from Katharine Hepburn the other day—she lives here in New York, actually, right down the street, well, sort of, at two forty-four forty-ninth. . . . Anyway, she told me she wants you to take a crew over to England and shoot a cameo with Vivien Leigh—girl’s dying, poor kid’s got TB—anyway, Hepburn says we should put her in the picture as a tribute, sort of a final tribute, a good-bye and, you know, thanks for the memory, Hah! Hah!—she says you could make her Rhett Butler’s old mother or something, little Bonnie’s grandmother, the real reason Rhett took her off to London, and so on and so on. Not a bad idea, maybe—I told her we’d think about it—frankly, though, I think it’d be stupid. Doesn’t make any sense. I didn’t tell her yes or no, but I said I’d think about it and see what you say. . . . What do you think?”

Wally puffed out his cheeks and said, “First I’ve heard about it. Sounds like a terrible idea—”

“Well, it is,” Sarnoff snorted. “You can do what you want, but keep me out of it. I told Hepburn you’d call her. But don’t—no, don’t call her, I’ll tell her I never mentioned it to you—the whole thing is just dumb. Just let it go, forget it. . . . What I want is for you to make one hell of a re-make—a re-make of Gone With the Wind that we can serialize as a mini-series over four or five nights every five years or so—and we can show in its entirety on a Sunday, maybe, once every couple a years, maybe around the anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination, or whenever we need to. There’s a whole new generation of people out there—and more to come—who never read the book, never saw the movie—probably never even heard of it! Disc jockeys still play Max Steiner’s music—you gotta come up with stuff just as good—better, not just as good, which shouldn’t be too tough. Lennie McCarthur as Scarlett’s old man is pure genius—whaddya gonna do about his wheelchair?—and that cornpone Gabby Hayes accent of his! Old man O’Hara’s supposed to be Irish, an immigrant, isn’t he? . . . .Also, the other film, about Margaret Mitchell in Atlanta, with you and your wife—I’ll tell you right now, it’s no blockbuster—thank God it’s on TV, nobody would buy a ticket to see it, at least, I don’t think so, unless they just want to see Betsy Rand and Marlon Brando—but let me tell you something, some of the scenes with them are already classics, that part at the end when she gets hit by the car, that’s your best scene, not that the ones with you and Brando fighting over her were not great. We want to show that movie—what’id you call it, Another Day?—as a sort of promo whenever we schedule the mini-series. Get the picture? Eventually, all we gotta do is run your Mitchell biography flick and the audience knows Gone With the Wind—the new and valid version is coming in a couple days or so! We can milk this thing on TV for the next fifty years—and MGM can still make a mint showing it in movie houses all over the world when it first comes out, then booking it in once a year or so, every once in a while—hell, I’ll make sure they get a cut from the TV revenue—not a bundle, but enough to make them happy. I’ll set you and Brando and your wife up for life with better residuals than the union says we have to, so all you got to do is go out there and make one hell of a great re-make. You sure you and Morrie and whatshisface DeBrine are up to this? . . . . I’m really glad we had this little talk. We got a deal?”

At that moment, before Wally could reply, one of the two women who controlled Sarnoff’s life came through the door and into the office. It was Erica Ruben, the stocky, ebullient sixty-four year old secretary with straggly gray hair, the Russian émigré who had been at his side since his days at Marconi Wireless. “Gen’rel,” she announced, her accent as thick as it was the day she cued up at Ellis Island, “da utters’r dare inna boar’roo. All iss dare now.”

* * *

Wally was on the telephone for nearly an hour from his suite at the Waldorf-Astoria telling Betsy all about his meeting with David Sarnoff, the executive staff, the NBC legal team, and the pantheon of board members; he called Trent DeBrine immediately after hanging up. He located the director at home, poolside, with Isabelle and Beverly Follett; it was six o’clock in New York and three in Hollywood.

“The music,” Wally said, “—David Sarnoff is worried about the music. Max Steiner’s score was perfect, exquisite, incomparable. We’ve got to get something more dynamic, something as . . . great. Better.”

“Yeah,” DeBrine agreed. “How? Johnny Cash?”

“Yeah, right. . . .I don’t know. Everything—from the overture, to the background for each scene, the close-ups and wide shots, the dances, the war songs, the transitions—the intermission, the entr’acte—goddamn it, everything!—has got to be brand new and just as perfect. Steiner was nominated for an Oscar—what we do cannot sound even remotely like the original. We got to get someone who can write a whole new score that’ll knock everyone’s socks off . . . ”

“Who you suggest?

“I don’t know. I don’t care. Maybe Meredith Wilson . . . Hoagy Carmichael . . . Johnny Mercer . . .”

“Sure. While I’m at it, I’ll give Leonard Bernstein a call,” DeBrine

quipped

There was a long, reflective silence at both ends. Then Wally, almost whispering, said, “Bernstein?”

“Yeah. Did I say Bernstein? . . . You know him?”

“No. Do you?”

“No. Maybe Morrie does. Is he there?”

Wally put down the phone and walked into the living room where Nussbaum was watching TV. “Do you know Leonard Bernstein?”

“Uh-uh,” Morrie grunted, without looking away from the TV. “Whaddaya wanna do, get tickets to West Side Story?”

“No,” Wally said. “Trent wants to hire him to write the score for Gone With the Wind.”

Neither Nussbaum nor Wally had a copy of The Silver Book with him, and the Admin people at NBC had left for the day; the news desk, after a dozen rings, did not pick up; too close to airtime. When Wally went back to the phone he had left in the bedroom, DeBrine was gone. Wally called Betsy again and caught her just as she was leaving Margaret Mitchell’s for Rich’s at Ansley Mall to buy new curtains, sheets and towels.

“Leonard Bernstein?” she repeated. “You want to get him to write the music for the movie?”

“Yeah. Look him up in The Silver Book—he oughta be in there.”

“You sure he’s the one you want, sweetheart? He writes, you know, classical stuff—”

“Like On the Town—West Side Story—Wonderful Town—On the Waterfront . . . Real classical stuff.”

“No, what I mean is, he’s big on—you know—operas and symphonies, stuff like that.”

“Perfect!” Wally cried; “that’s perfect—just what Gone With the Wind needs, what it is—an opera! Just think! A brand new musical score—by Leonard Bernstein! What a great opening! What great credits! An Overture to a fucking opera! . . . You know how the original opens with a static shot of the sky, the clouds, the sunset, all orange with streaks of a sunset smearing the clouds, some dark, some bright, wispy—a wooden fence and a scraggly old tree in the foreground—shit, they hold that shot for the whole Overture! Practically. Almost till it’s over. . . . Well, I’m gonna open with a wide, distant shot so far away that you can’t tell what the hell you’re looking at, and not drenched in orange and reds, either—then, as the music builds and swells, we’re moving in closer and closer, like we’re a hundred miles away, the shot swoops over fields where you can just begin to make out people working, farmers, field hands, lot of black people—and when we get closer, you begin to see what’s in the center of the picture. Not just clouds and sky and a sunset, but it starts to take shape. And when the main theme of the Overture hits, after all the build up, you see it’s—it’s—it’s a city—an old city, a dusty old hot humid Southern town, nothing modern, nothing recognizable, no skyline, no siree Bob, store fronts rising up, it’s an old town down in Georgia—it’s—it’s Atlanta—that’s what it is! Yes, Jesus—Atlanta—just like it was in 1861!—only it’s not a static shot, a road comes into the frame from the lower left, a dirt road, straight but narrow, and the camera begins to follow the road—there’re people moving in the town—kids, ladies, merchants, old people, horses and carriages, Negroes carryin’ cotton and tobacco, Negroes being bought and sold, a few Confederate soldiers hangin’ around here and there . . . and we keep comin’ in up the road as the music builds with great pace and drama, a crescendo, strings and timpani and trumpets and French horns, soaring, fading, soaring again, crashing kettle drums like cannon—it’s all about peace, then war, destruction, peace again, devastation, reconstruction, people getting born then dying—the South and all its Cavaliers and Courtesies, its Ladies in lavender and lace, all of it is about to be crushed—destroyed, burned, stomped on—but, damn it, the South will rise again!—tomorrow is another day!—and suddenly—there it is, right there, in full screen—Tara! . . . And across the center of the screen we flow the title just like they did in the original, but with changes, a little bit different—so that it ends exactly with the final notes of the Overture: GONE WITH THE WIND, an opera of the Old South. . . .. Whatcha think?”

Betsy did not reply at first. She was crying.

They sat side by side in the taxi, Wally and Morris Nussbaum, in front of The Ardleigh House at 26 Central Park South, the building where Leonard Bernstein lived with Tom Cothran, on the twenty-seventh floor overlooking Central Park. Nussbaum asked Wally if they were going to just sit there and stare at the building, or were they going to go in? “I don’t think Bernstein’s coming down to let us in,’ he said.

“Shall I ask the driver to wait for us—like they always do in the movies?” Wally wondered, his eyes wide with awe, always in so many ways till the young man from Buffalo.

“I don’t think so. We can call another before we leave.”

Betsy had found the number and address in The Silver Book: Leonard Bernstein, composer, conductor—see Tom Cothran and/or Felicia Bernstein, NYC. Wally wrote the number on a memo pad by the phone and gave it to Nussbaum. “You call him. My name won’t mean anything to him.”

Nussbaum chuckled at that. “Like mine will.”

To Wally’s surprise and Nussbaum’s delight, Bernstein answered the phone himself and claimed he knew of Morris Nussbaum and seemed glad to hear from him. Whether he did, didn’t—or wasn’t—he spoke most affably and listened with seeming interest to the nature of Nussbaum’s call. “Whoa, hold on a second,” he said, interrupting with a short laugh, “this is a lot to absorb, out of the blue like this—you say you’re at the Waldorf? . . . . Good, great. Why don’t the two of you grab a cab and come on over? We’ve eaten—nothing’s on the agenda. You know where I am?”

The concierge in the lobby of The Ardleigh House graciously asked if he could be of any assistance, and Wally requested he inform Mr. Bernstein they had arrived. The concierge, a rugged, unattractive European, possibly a former boxer, nametag Armand, rang the twenty-seventh floor and alerted Bernstein Mr. Emerson and Mr. Nussbaum were on their way up. “The elevator is right over there,”—rate ova dere—Armand indicated, his accent gross Estonian, and both guests glanced across the well-lit marble lobby, past the Louis XIV settees and armchairs, to the waiting elevator. “Just push 27 and up you go . . . . Oh, and a word to the wise”—vurd tuh da vise—“it’s Mister Bern-styne, not steen. The gentleman is kinda, you know, like we say, funny about that.” Lake vee sey, fuddy bow dat.

In the elevator, Nussbaum laughed aloud and said, “If BernSTYNE calls me Noose-balm, the deal’s off!”

The deal, as it was, materialized rapidly and with greater ease than either Wally or Nussbaum suspected it would. Leonard Bernstein met them as the elevator doors opened—not in a hallway, but rather in a small, private vestibule directly in front of the living room, which was immediately beyond open double steel doors trimmed in faux oak and painted gold. It did not seem an inordinately spacious apartment—what Wally and Nussbaum could see of it—but it was elegantly, expensively eclectic, and the view from the floor-to-ceiling window at the far end of the room, looking north the length of Central Park, must have been magnificent during daytime. Even now, after dark, the vast oasis glittered like a Christmas tree decorated in an asylum by inmates who had thrown a million colored lights randomly at it, with most clinging to its outer limbs. It was breathtaking. Wally, entranced by the view, never noticed the Steinway Concert Grand piano blocking twenty percent of the window.

“You should see it in the early afternoon, in July,” Leonard Bernstein said, taking Wally’s elbow and leading his guests to a long sofa near the piano. The maestro was not an especially tall man, but, not yet fifty, he was trim, slight of build, and he moved with sprightly, nervous energy, his thick mop of indigo-gray-streaked hair bouncing ever so slightly as it drooped dramatically over his forehead. His hair was casual overgrowth, shaggy with cumbersome sideburns, culturally neat, rich and thick—yet long and limp enough to be almost liquid. It was a head of hair, a lion’s mane, befitting a great musician; it had electrifying flare when he was conducting, histrionic impact when he was bent over the piano, and something through which he could run his fingers when teaching youngsters as to why Mozart was a better but different sort of composer than, say, George Gershwin, both of whom he idolized. His face, majestically long and lined, a little craggy, was gaunt and expressive; his eyes, however, buried beneath tangled brows, seemed hypnotic with tense, narrow determination and certainty that nothing was ever what it seemed: whatever one was thinking—or about to suggest—had to be dealt with, and dealt with quickly. Every element of genius was in place save one—the ubiquitous cigarette—a more potent and destructive weapon in his hands than even Brian Donlevy’s, if that were possible.

“Felicia and I,” he for some reason was compelled to say, “have a duplex on Park Avenue. View sucks, but I may move back there soon. . . . So—what’s this I hear? A new version of Gone With the Wind? Is that such a good idea?”

“I doubt if we can talk him out of it,” Nussbaum sighed, mixing phony exaggeration with a chortle.

Wally realized this was a one-time opportunity and he grabbed the initiative. “There were four great things about David Selznick’s production,” he said. “One was Vivien Leigh. Not only was Scarlett O’Hara beautiful and a beautifully corrupt, mean-spirited bitch—I mean, she was vile, a selfish, destructive whore who would do anything to anybody to get what she wanted—or worse still, what she thought she wanted. Vivien Leigh was able to salvage lines that coming from any other actress would have turned the whole thing into a B-movie. Another was Clark Gable—he could have sleepwalked through it without ever saying a word. In fact, why he or anyone else gave a vampire like Scarlett a moment’s notice is the mystery of the century. A face and body like a brunette Marilyn Monroe—but a mind like, well, Lizzy Borden. . . . The third was Margaret Mitchell’s book. The novel is a great read, fabulous as literature, an accurate and true saga of the South before, during, and after the Civil War. But transitioning it to the screen—well, even Sidney Howard and Ben Hecht couldn’t turn the book’s dialogue into a first-class visual drama. The movie, by today’s standards, is a disaster of stilted acting borne of a bad script and a plethora of scenes even the cutting room floor should have rejected. What saved the day was the music. Max Steiner’s score. . . . And, of course, Fleming and Cukor’s direction.”

“No argument from me,” Bernstein said, tamping out his cigarette in a crystal ashtray and lighting another. He began humming the main theme. “Fabulous melody line.”

“Well,” Wally said, ‘that’s why we’re here. I want you to compose—create—a whole new score. Everything. From beginning to end . . .”

Bernstein chuckled. “Sure. Who turned you down?”

“Nobody,” Nussbaum reply.

“You’re the first person we asked,” Wally said. “If you say no, the next person I’ll ask is . . . Chuck Berry.”

Bernstein drew heavily on his cigarette, pulling the smoke in deeply, and when he spoke, the cloud he emitted was a fraction of what stayed in his chest. “You’re . . . kidding. Chuck Berry?” Berry exploded in a sharp cough.

Wally laughed and glanced quickly at Nussbaum to assure him he was kidding. “Would you like me to send you the LP of Steiner’s score?”

Bernstein shook his head and nodded toward the room off to his right. “I’ve got twelve thousand LPs in my library—I’m sure Gone With the Wind is in there. You got a print of the film?”

“I can have Trent DeBrine send you one. Can you project it?”

“Yeah, sure, I think I can figure out a way. . . . Come to think of it, I don’t want to see the original. I could work better off the script, your new one.”

“I’ll send you a copy.” Wally knew Nussbaum was about to say something—what script?—and he was relieved when Bernstein spoke.

“How much?”

“You’ll do it?”

“How much?”

Wally held back and didn’t blurt it out. Methodically, slowly, he said, “I budgeted two hundred fifty thousand—a hundred up front. The balance on completion—” he quickly added—“and an additional two-fifty for either an Oscar nomination or the real thing.”

“What if you don’t like it?” Bernstein wondered.

Nussbaum leaned back and breathed easier. “What’s not to like?”

His cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth, the artistic director/conductor of the New York Philharmonic moved to the piano. He placed the cigarette on the right hand filler block of the fall board and began to play a theme he’d had running through his head from the moment Nussbaum had called him. It was the nucleus of an overture that made Wally think of a classroom of young students opening a textbook on life in the antebellum South—momentarily boring at first, but moving within the first six bars to a musical picture of gentility, of fun and games, of handsome men and sweet, soft and gorgeous ladies, of a life of filled with fears only that it would not last forever—and it doesn’t. The theme is suddenly eroded with uncertainty and the dark gloom of war, of death and destruction, sweeping across the horizon—hints of the Old South comes out, but then slip away, returning after a long passage to a rapture of—hope. . . . The hairs on Wally’s neck became erect; Nussbaum had goose bumps. Bernstein, his eyes closed, sat at the piano and played for more than twenty minutes. His cigarette burned a gash in the piano where untold others had similarly perished.

“That’s exactly what I want,” Wally said, so softly Nussbaum barely heard him. “If you can remember all that—we got a deal?”

Leonard Bernstein lit another cigarette. “Deal. We can meet with my agent tomorrow. . . .You fellas drink?”

24

Betsy, in shorts and a loose halter, waited for him at the apartment in the Margaret Mitchell place, and they met in the doorway, awkwardly embracing while he tried to set down his briefcase and valise, and holding each other with concupiscence that might have manifested itself there and then had he not swept her up and carried her inside. It was if they had been apart three years, not three days. Within minutes they were in the bedroom shedding clothes that were perhaps smoldering, toppling in an embrace onto Peggy and John Marsh’s bed now adorned with crisp fresh sheets.

Much later, the sun still well above the horizon, its nosey rays penetrating the leaded glass window in distorted surveillance, Betsy, on her back, pushed Wally gently off her, and said, “So . . . you really got Leonard Bernstein?”

“Ye-aaaa,” he whispered, trying to catch his breath. Lock . . . stock . . . barrrr…elllll . . .”

“Tell me all about it.”

“In a . . . minute.”

“What’s he like? What’s his place like? Did you meet his wife, Felicia? Was Tom Cothran there? Who is Tom Cothran—what’s he to Bernstein?”

Wondering if they could both fit inside the circular shower curtain ring Izzy had concocted for the tub in the miniscule bathroom, Wally was going to suggest they take a shower and go north to Buckhead, perhaps to Bones for dinner. But the look on Betsy’s face was one of anxiety blended with genuine curiosity, and he soon was able to breathe deeply and tell her about his adventure in New York.

“Well,” he said, raising his arms and folding his fingers behind his head, “the meeting at NBC was—a blast. Ol’ David Sarnoff came on like Fitzgerald’s Last Tycoon—I even met with him privately in his office—he actually shooed Morrie out so we could be alone—and he told me he was behind us one hundred percent, no matter what anybody said in the board meeting. . . . Actually, nobody said anything negative, it was all rah-rah go for it and make a trillion dollars! The guys in the boardroom were all students of the Adolphe Menjou School of Dressing for Success—even Sarnoff was the epitome of elegance. You should have seen his suit—worsted sharkskin, I mean the real stuff, easily a thousand bucks. . . . No, I mean it—Morrie and I looked like a couple Wilshire Boulevard panhandlers by comparison! Anyway, every time we mentioned your name and Marlon Brando, their eyes rolled back and they had group orgasms. . . . I don’t know how we got on the subject of Leonard Bernstein—I think it was when I was talking to Trent on the telehone later. Anyway, after you found his number, Morrie called him, and I think he recognized Morrie’s name, so he said come on over. . . . You know what? He actually sat down at the piano in his living room and played off the top of his head what he thought the main theme of the score should sound like! Jesus, I mean, you have no idea how great that was! It was perfect, just the way it’s going to sound—he nailed it right outta the chute! Only—listen to this—once he gets it down in paper, he wants to record the Overture, the ‘As God is my witness’ Curtain, the Intermission, the Entr’acte, and the Conclusion—all with the New York Philharmonic! . . . And the MGM studio orchestra out in California for a final cut for the scenes and episode shifts—with Bernstein conducting! He’ll fly out and work with them for as long as it takes! . . . . As your dad would say, ‘Jaysus Haich Christmas, can y’all beat that!’”

Betsy turned closer to him and put her head in the hammock of his shoulder; he brought one arm down and held her against him. “Can we afford him?” she asked.

“Of course we can—and even if we couldn’t, I don’t care,” Wally said. “And neither does Morrie. Morrie says if we have to go back to Sarnoff on bended knee, Bernstein is doing the score. . . . Actually, we got him for two-fifty, and another two-fifty if he gets the nod for an Oscar. He also gets a hundred percent of the profits from Columbia Masterworks for the original album—which is okay because he’ll pay the orchestras out of his take and give the rest to his favorite charity, some bunch of nitwits called the Black Panthers. All we gotta do is give him single screen credit after the cast and other stuff, for ‘Music Composed and Conducted by Leonard Bernstein with the New York Philharmonic and MGM Studio Orchestras’. Hell’s bells, just for that alone, I’d make his name twice as large as Brando’s—and almost as big as yours!”

Betsy giggled at that. “Not in this lifetime!”

“Yeah, you’re right—Brando would never sit still for that.”

Betsy came up on one elbow and looked down at him. “Hope you enjoyed your last welcome home fuck for a long time.” Wally pulled her back down and kissed her, then said, “So . . . I can die happy. . . . But right now, we got a bigger problem. Bernstein wants a copy of the script—and as far as I know, we ain’t got one yet. . . . Have we? . . . And Sarnoff wants to know what we’re gonna do about your dad’s cowboy accent. And his wheelchair.”

* * *

It was a Sunday, exactly ten days before the day after July 4, that Wally, Trent DeBrine, Orin Farmer, Lorraine Johansson, Teddy Meloni, Donald Olenet, and Corey Provence ‘went to the mattresses’ inside the Margaret Mitchell house and finalized, after eleven drafts, a shooting script for Gone With the Wind. Meals were brought in three times a day by The Varsity, a local greasy spoon near Georgia Tech (after the second day, most opted for room service at the Georgian Terrace, and DeBrine paid to have it delivered until further notice), the TVs and telephones were turned off, Lorraine shared a bedroom with Betsy in Apartment No. 1, and Wally and DeBrine moved in with Izzy in Apartment No. 7. The rest were scattered in other apartments on new air mattresses purchased at REI, a local camping supply store. Downtown and Buckhead were off limits, and those who had rented cars had their keys confiscated; the liquor cabinet was locked in Apartment No. 1 and Betsy hid the key. The writers brought their own portable typewriters from Hollywood, and each one took on the serious responsibility of turning all 1,037 pages of Margaret Mitchell’s novel into a workable screenplay. Orin Farmer passed out six copies of the book, keeping one for himself, and each writer was responsible for sequentially adapting approximately 207 pages. Farmer took the first couple hundred, Lorraine Johansson the next two hundred, Teddy Meloni the next, with Corey Provence and Don Olenet rounding it out. It was Wally and DeBrine’s job to proofread each section daily and correlate the storyline, making changes where necessary, and meshing all re-writes with consistent plot development. Projectors and screens were set up in the living rooms of Apartments 1, 7, and 11, and reels of the original movie were made available by MGM so that the writers could preview scenes at their discretion—also copies of Sidney Howard’s and Victor Fleming’s final shooting scripts were scattered all over the house, though rarely looked at. Wally had made it clear: “I want a treatment based on the novel, not the old movie or the original script. I know it’s got to be tightened up, shortened, some obvious plot changes and character deletions—or the damned thing’s gonna run nine hours. I want to hear dialogue that’s not alien to today’s ear, but I don’t want to compromise the essence of Southern gentility, the culture of the protagonists, either—so give me lines that make sense coming from our actors—especially Scarlett and Butler. Give Ashley Wilkes words that sound right coming outta Terry Powell’s mouth when he’s portraying a true and sincere Southern aristocrat. Sally Field’s Melanie Hamilton-Wilkes has got to retain all the sweetness, kindness and plain simplicity that Olivia de Havilland gave her—God, what a performance! How the hell McDaniel beat her outta the Oscar is beyond me! . . . There are at least a hundred key scenes in this story, and that’s where we’ve got to focus. The opening at the plantation party, Rhett overhearing Scarlett and Ashley’s very private tête-à-tête, the men arguing about the war, Charles almost challenging Rhett to a duel, Ashley going off to war, Sherman laying siege to Atlanta, Scarlett marrying Charles, Charles dying of measles rather than war wounds, the charity bazaar, Scarlett and her sisters working the land, Sherman burns Atlanta—God, it goes on and on—Scarlett marrying Frank Kennedy, the war’s end, Ashley returns, Scarlett will never be hungry again, O’Hara gets killed falling off his horse, the lumber mill, the taxes, the Shantytown incident, Rhett proposes, the honeymoon, Bonnie Blue is born, Melanie dies, Scarlett has a miscarriage . . . . I can’t even remember them all, let alone keep them straight—but it ends with Rhett walking out on her, deservedly, the pig—Scarlett, I mean, not Rhett, he’s just an unfortunate, good-looking slug with a lot of money and a warped id. . . . I mean, this is the most melodramatic story ever conceived—even Shakespeare never tried to cram this much bullshit into one saga of human bullshit. And let’s remember, our audience is 1968 and beyond, not 1939—and certainly not 1868. If some of the scenes have a Ku Klux Klan mentality, so be it, don’t pull any punches—tell it like it was, but don’t honey-coat it with sentimentality or try to make the white folk look less than what most basically were—fucking bigots. Civil rights have come a long way in a hundred years, and has a long way to go. I want to see Scarlett as the conniving bitch she was, and Rhett Butler as the vacillating sycophant he was, whose brains most of the time were in his pecker. His intentions might be good, but his actions are always suspect—he’s got one eye on Scarlett’s crotch and the other on turning the war into a money-machine. Shit, he never wears the same suit or hat more than once in the whole movie!—he must have a hundred brand new suits in his closet! . . You guys know what I mean. . . . I want a screenplay that will give us a great new movie that accurately as possible depicts the American scene at the time of the most crucial evolvement of our country’s history. I know we can do it. We’ve got the greatest, finest ensemble of actors imaginable—I’m talking about Betsy and Marlon Brando, Lennie McCarthur, Lolo Rand, Sally Field, Terry Powell, Brian Donlevy, Eddie O’Brien—and Trent DeBrine here, the most inventive director working anywhere, the most talented photographer and cameramen, sound engineers, cutters, costume people, set designers, makeup artists—all of them, the best money can buy—and speaking of money, the support of a major studio and broadcasting network with deep, deep pockets. I’m telling you, there’s nothing you can come up with that we can’t film. And once we got a script we can work with, a script containing all the drama, excitement, color and character portrayal the old one lacked or distorted, we’re gonna have a musical score that will literally set the world on its ass—by Leonard Bernstein! I’m talking Leonard Bernstein!. . . . So, let’s go to work—and knock ‘em dead!”

Wally walked out to the limo he had hired to bring his crew in from the airport; in the trunk were reams of typing paper. Betsy, who had listened silently to his remarks, followed him. “Can I ask you a question, chief?”

“Sure . . . . Here, help me with these.”

“If this movie turns out to be a piece of crap, would you consider re-making Knute Rockne, All American? I think you’d be better than Pat O’Brien.”

EPILOGUE

All scenes with Marlon Brando in Atlanta and in Hollywood were shot first, and if Betsy Rand was involved with him, as she was in almost every scene in which Brando appeared—everything totally out of sequence—she was required to be present. Once Brando was done and gone after the intial weeks, Betsy, as Scarlett, would begin all scenes in which she appeared either alone or with other actors, and there were a sizeable number. The remaining scenes, such as those involving Sally Field, Terry Powell, and the host of others, in which neither Betsy nor Brando were needed, would be filmed after Brando and Betsy completed theirs to the satisfaction of Trent DeBrine and Wally. To an outsider, this might have been a most confusing modus operandi, but in reality it was the only sensible way to shoot a motion picture of this size and scope, especially since sites were being used in Atlanta and South Carolina as well as the MGM sound stages and back lot in Hollywood. Wally often shook his head and said he was completely lost—he would throw his hands up in despair and tell Betsy the whole thing “is one colossal mistake, this is certainly not Rusted Spurs—I’m way outta my league!”—But Trent DeBrine, a master of random continuity, would simply suggest, “You keep an eye on the time clock and the checkbook—let me worry about the script and the actors. When it comes time for piecing it all together, I’ll meet you and Abbey Powell in the editing suite. . . .You are out of your league. But so were Selznick and Fleming—and even Edison and Alexander Graham Bell, come to think of it. Go take some Pepto-Bismol.”

Actual shooting began on the first day of August, on Sound Stage No. 19 at MGM. It was, in reality, the next-to-last scene of the movie, when Butler walks out on Scarlett and, in essence, tells her to piss off out of his life forever. The lead up to the denouement would begin out of sequence in Atlanta where Scarlett runs back to their mansion in Marietta to tell Rhett that now that Melanie’s dead and Ashley is hopeless, she’s finally got her head on straight, she now knows she loves him, Rhett—not Ashley—and all’s well that end’s well. But it’s there, at the bottom of the fabulous staircase, that it all comes to a final boil, and Rhett hits the bricks. Scarlett, dressed in black and still mourning Bonnie Blue’s accidental demise, can’t believe her husband is actually leaving her, and during a break in the action, Betsy turned and asked Wally if he was satisfied with Lennie McCarthur’s brogue, which had nothing to do with the scene they were shooting.

“Your dad,” Wally said, “is one hell of an actor. He read one of his scenes for Trent and me couple weeks ago, and he’s more Irish than Eamon de Valera!”

Betsy laughed at that. “McCarthur isn’t exactly a Mongolian name—besides, he was an actor before he was a stuntman. And you’d never know he was in a wheelchair, wouldya?”

“He’s still pissed off Mahoney’s going to do his fall off the horse. He says Jock’ll hit the ground like a kid’s stuffed rabbit.”

“What about the music? Did you hear the Bernstein recordings?”

“Wait till you hear it, sweetheart! The Academy won’t bother to even consider other nominations!”

“Yeah—right.”

After a third rehearsal, DeBrine was satisfied; the angle, the framing, the muted light, the foggy mist in the background—everything was right, perfect. Brando smiled, leaning against the fake doorway, and said, “We do hit agin you want.” DeBrine shook his head, but Wally said, “Let me ask you a question, Marlon.” Brando looked at him. “The line Olenet wrote is ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.’ You say ‘My dear, I don’t give a damn.’ You don’t say frankly. How come?”

Brando moved away from the door, around Betsy, and stepped closer to where Wally was sitting on a high, canvass-backed chair. “Margret Mitchell wrote it ‘Muh dear, I doan give a damn.’ Gable musta ad libbed the ‘frankly’ shit. I like her way better—you?”

Wally shifted his weight slightly and said he guessed so. “Whadda you think, Betsy?” His wife shrugged and swiped at the perspiration on her forehead. “Sokay by me.” Trent DeBrine said, “Let’s just shoot it, for God’s sake. Everybody’s starving.”

Brando returned to the doorway. A makeup girl named Emily moved in front of him and dabbed his chin with a cotton swab-mitt, pushing his curly hair back from his forehead with her other hand. Betsy found her spot, her back to the camera. The makeup girl looked at Betsy and determined she was okay. As soon as Emily was gone, the assistant cameraman murmured, “Rolling . . .” An assistant A.D. stepped into the picture and held a clack board as close to center as possible—Gone With the Wind ~ Scene 923 ~ Take One—and after a few seconds he said, aloud, “Scene nine-twenty-three, Take one! Quiet, people!” and he raised the clack bar as high as it would go, then slammed it shut with a sound not unlike a rifle shot; he stepped backwards out of the picture. DeBrine waited as long as necessary and said: “Action!”

The camera had a three-quarter shot of Brando in the doorway. He was wearing a black suit coat and a brilliant white starched shirt, the collar tips folded on each side of a huge ascot; a black topcoat was draped over his right arm, his broad brimmed gray slouch hat in one hand, and he was holding a supple leather satchel by its ivory handle with his other; a trace of the red lining of the topcoat was visible. The camera moved in until the actor was framed in a medium head-and-shoulders shot; Betsy remained static with only the back of her head, the left side of her in the right-hand quarter of the frame. Off-camera a script girl spoke the cue-line, which would be dubbed in later in Betsy’s voice: “Rhett! Rhett! Where am I going to go? What am I going to do without you?”

Brando didn’t answer at first; he glanced back at Scarlett, looking down at his wife’s feet, then up to her face, his own lips drifting into a grimace. Slowly, almost imperceptively, the camera moved in a hair closer. Brando’s head came up and his eyes fixed on Scarlett’s unseen face. A frown started, and then subsided, as his brows slid a millimeter closer; his eyes narrowed ever so slightly. Mouth closed, he sent a breath through puffed lips—the rush of air was barely audible—and he said softly, “Muh dear . . . I—doan give a damn.” He did, however, give Scarlett a mild sneer and hesitated, as if waiting for her to say or do something. No response; no reaction (beyond stunned.) A heartbeat later, he turned and walked briskly away into the night’s manufactured fog, donning his slouch hat and disappearing in the mist.

“Cut!”

They were all back in Hollywood a few days later. The evening before they were to shoot the movie’s final scene, out of sequence and with at least two or three months of filming ahead in both LA and Atlanta, Wally drove to Encino to pick up some grocery items at Emerson Market.

“I’da had all this delivered tomorrow,” Nelson Emerson told his son.

“I know. But there’s some stuff we need for morning. Coffee, eggs, milk, English muffins. How’s Mom?”

“Great. Went home early. Stopped at her office at MGM, had some calls to make. Give her a call, you get a chance. She’ll be home later.”

“I will.”

“Mr. Emerson? Hi. Got a minute? . . . ”

Both Wally and his father turned simultaneously and looked at the tall, compact man standing with them at the checkout counter. “I know you,” Wally said, unable to hide his surprise in seeing him in Emerson’s. “You’re Sam Goldwyn—Junior.”

“Yes. Yes, I am,” the middle-aged man replied, smiling pleasantly and revealing two rows of even, white teeth, obviously well cared for. Although Wally was certain he had never met the elder Goldwyn, he had seen many newspaper and magazine photos of the mogul, and he did not think Sam, Jr. bore much resemblance. The son was tall, well over six feet, slight of build but athletic, fair; but, then, his mother was Frances Howard—in a her day a poignant Gentile beauty who had made four insignificant silent movies before marrying the enigmatic Hollywood icon. Sam, Jr. was their only child, and by unremitting and doting osmosis he seemed to have acquired his mother’s curly hair and elongated features that included an aquiline nose and flashing almond eyes. If his father was the apotheosis of a central European Jew, the younger Samuel was a conglomeration that spoke loudly to his mother’s strong, clear Nordic genes. “I hope you don’t mind,” he said; “I called you at home, but your wife said you were probably at your dad’s market—so we drove on over here. Not far from our place on Laurel Lane, actually. . . . I’m, uh, living at home right now with my parents.”

Wally nodded; he’d heard that Sam. Jr. was in the midst of a divorce from his wife, Jennifer, the daughter of the late Sidney Howard who had written the screenplay for the original Gone With the Wind. “Well, yeah” he said, “I’m glad to meet you, finally. . . . This is my dad, Nelson Emerson.”

“How do you do?” Samuel Goldwyn, Jr. asked politely, shaking Nelson’s extended hand. He smiled again and turned back to Wally. “My father would like to talk with you, meet you, he, uh, for some time has wanted to get with you. . . . He even thought he might come over to MGM to see you, but . . . that was just a passing idea. I don’t know that he’s ever set foot in the place more’n once or twice. Or ever would again. He and the late L.B. Mayer. . . . Well, anyway, he had us drive him over here, and he would like very much to meet you.”

Wally glanced about. “Where is he?”

“Outside. In the car. I could—maybe you could show me around your store, Mr. Emerson . . .”

“How do I find him?” Wally asked.

“I imagine it’s the only Rolls in the parking lot,” Sam, Jr. replied, and his tone was bland, in no way sarcastic. “What I mean is, we parked just outside. Just tap on the window.”

It was a clear but chilly California evening; Goldwyn’s gleaming Gray Ghost was parked beneath a glaring utility lamp just to the left of the store’s main entrance. Wally approached quickly, but before he was able to tap on the window, the front door opened and a uniformed chauffeur stepped out. “Good evening, sir. Mr. Goldwyn’s waiting for you.” He opened the rear door, and an overhead dome light revealed an elderly man alone in the back of the automobile, a reddish wool blanket with an ornate G spread over his legs. “Come on, get in!” he barked. “Freezing!”

Wally climbed in as the chauffeur closed the door and walked away. Sam Goldwyn reached up and activated the dome light again and patted the seat next to him; Wally sat down, extending his hand, which Goldwyn ignored.

“My son found you okay. Good, like maybe you was lost!” The renowned movie mogul at eighty-eight was still a somewhat handsome, formidable man with piercing eyes and a granite face fronting an oversized steel ball bearing of a head. He habitually puckered his rubbery lips beneath a bulbous nose that seemed to lift like a parakeet’s thick perch as he breathed, and, although Wally was unaware, his speech pattern had not changed over the years. His attire was impeccable and expensively comfortable: his suit coat seemed freshly pressed, a woolen weave from Savile Row, his starched T. Hodgkinson white shirt was new and not long out of the box, and his Sulka tie, a pale lemon four-in-hand of pure silk, was firmly snuggled in a Windsor knot beneath his chin. A light gray homburg that matched his suit lay in his lap, and he absently fingered the stiff brim. Wally could not see Goldwyn’s shoes beneath the car robe, but if he had, he would have seen they were polished to painful brilliance; he would not have known they were custom-made Lobb of London slip-ons. The only thing Wally thought to say was, “I’ve wanted to meet you for a long time, Mr. Goldwyn. I honestly thought I’d never have the chance.”

“Why?” Goldwyn asked, and Wally didn’t know if he was asking why did he want to meet him, or why did he think he’d never have the chance? Goldwyn wasn’t about to expand on either one. “I have produced more great movies, made more great stars than anybody out here, or in New York or Europe, anyplace” he said. “You know how many movies I made that grossed over a million dollars?” Before Wally could offer a number, Goldwyn said, “Six hundred and fifty-two thousand.”

“That’s—a lot of movies.”

“Yeah. Hah! I lie. I maybe made eighty, more or less. Not all of ‘em made that much money, either. Lost my shirt on some of ‘em.” The old man looked at Wally and smiled merrily, a new twinkle in his eye; Wally noticed for the first time Goldwyn’s eyes slanted when he smiled, and he appeared momentarily Oriental, especially in the pale yellow of the dome light. “You know how many stars I made?” Wally, afraid to guess, shook his head. “Two,” Goldwyn said. “Vilma Banky, Ronald Colman, David Niven and George Balanchine. I know, I know—that’s four. But Balanchine was no actor. I hired him for one of my Follies, I wanted him to choreograph a ballet for Gershwin’s American in Paris for Vera Zorina—now there was one gorgeous woman! Let me tell you, God, I loved her, I woulda left Frances for her in a minute—but she couldn’t stand me, she loved Balanchine and ran off and married him. . . . Anyway, she woulda been my greatest star, but the ballet never got made for my movie, if it ever did get made, I don’t know, I think he did it for the Gene Kelly picture over at MGM. Come to think of it, Gary Cooper and Teresa Wright were no slouch, either. You got no idea what they put me through with Pride of the Yankees. Cooper knows less about baseball than I did. He couldn’t bat a ball left-handed, so they reversed the film and put his name and number on his uniform backwards so he could run from the home plate to third base, and everybody thought he was, you know, going to first! You shoulda seen Teresa cry—that girl could cry every time Wyler passed gas! Anyway. . . . You know something, kid?” Wally shook his head. “I don’t care. I’m not sure if I ever did. You got the same problem. Only bigger.”

Wally was perplexed. “I got a lot of problems,” he said. “You ought to know.”

It was Goldwyn’s turn to shake his head. “No, I don’t mean production problems, distribution, releases, contracts—all that stuff. Those you always got. They ain’t gonna go away. I could tell you stories that’d make your head spin. You’d run for the hills. Let me tell you something, something I told Sammy a long time ago. Success ruins more people in this business than failure. Digging up Gone With the Wind and trying to breathe life into that old corpse, make a decent movie out of it, that’s not your worst problem. Not that it’s going to be easy. . . . Hell, if it was easy, Selznick woulda made it right the first time! Hah! You know what was the greatest movie ever made? ‘Withering Heights’ and ‘The Best Year of Our Life’. You think Selznick had trouble with Gable? He had nothing compared to what I had with Olivier! He shoulda had Olivier for Rhett Butler—the picture woulda never got made! ‘Withering Heights’ was nominated for every goddamn award there was, but Gone With the Wind won ‘em all! I went home that night with nothin’ but my schwantz in my hand. No, listen, I’m telling you, your problem is not the movie or Trend DeBrine or your writers—it’s not even Marlon Brandies, either. I had him for Guys and Dolls and everybody said I was nuts. What made me really nuts was agreeing to use Frank Sinatra. Brando, though, couldn’t sing, but he was so good I gave him a car to keep, for his very own. You know something? I almost put Grace Kelly in instead of Jean Simmons, talk about blind stupidity! You haven’t even got a camera genius like Gregg Toland or schmucks like Willie Wyler or Joe Kennedy to put up with—you ain’t even Jewish. Are you? You know what’s gonna do you in, what your problem is? It’s Betsy Rand. Your wife. Betsy Rand. That’s your biggest problem. She’s gonna break your goddamned heart.”

Wally leaned back against the plush leather of the Rolls and stared at Sam Goldwyn, wondering when dementia had set in and whether now was as good a time as any to say goodnight and leave the car. “My wife,” he said, “is the best thing about this movie. I love her very much, more than anything in this world. And she loves me. She—”

Goldwyn angered him slightly more by stifling a snicker. “Your wife,” the tycoon said, “is one of the finest actresses in Hollywood. Maybe she’s the best there is, ever was. I ought to know. In my time I used up nearly every gorgeous first-class girl who ever stepped in front of Toland’s camera. Let me tell you something. Gone With the Wind was, for its day, next to ‘Withering Heights’ and ‘The Best Time of Your Lives’, the greatest movie ever made. Maybe. Madeline Mitchell’s book was the best bestseller anybody ever printed. Selznick wanted it so bad he outbid me by ten thousand dollars for the rights. I loved David Selznick—I was more a father to him than I was Sammy. But I shoulda had those rights. I wanted it for Paulette Goddard—Chaplin was head over heels in love with her, had her under contract, and he was a partner of my United Artists—the damn Limey’s been dead fifty years, or not as long, maybe. I would have made the movie entirely different. I would have hired Fredrick March, not Clark Gable, and Larry Olivier for John Wilkes—” Wally said, “Ashley,” but Goldwyn may not have heard him. “—Lillian Hellman would have written the script, we’d have set it in San Francisco, not Atlanta—certainly not in Alabama. I would have made Frances happy and had George Cukor directed it just the way I wanted it, and it would be—my masterpiece. If Frances had her way, Cukor woulda been Sammy’s father, not me. You got any sons, don’t let nobody come between you. I might have retired after that picture opened—which is what I’m advising you to do, because you’ll never do anything ever again as great, or even as near as good. Like I told my son, you’re only as good as your next movie. . . . But I digress.”

Goldwyn looked out the window and began to count. “One . . . two . . . three . . . four . . . five . . .” Wally followed his gaze and realized he was counting the people going in and coming out of Emerson Market.

“Mr. Goldwyn—”

“Shhh! . . . . The problem you’re going to face up to is that Betsy Rand is light years better for Scarlett O’Hara than Vivien Leigh ever was. Her face, her hair, eyes, skin, the way she walks, sound of her voice—the whole shebang—she has what Mary Pickford and Clara Bow had up on the screen: clean underwear. She comes like an atom bomb—dynamite! You know what I mean?” Wally wasn’t sure, but he said nothing. “I mean, you knew all about those girls the minute you saw them. They were up there, and they were wearing clean underwear, they were gorgeous, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Well, that’s Betsy Rand for you! Just like Pickford and Bow—and Merle Oberon, Teresa Wright, Hedy Lamar, Vera Ellen. Virginia Mayo. Clean underwear!”

Both men sat in contemplative silence for a moment, then Wally, out of respect for the old man, asked, “What am I to do about it? What do you think I should do?”

Goldwyn held up his arms in surrender. “What can you do about it? Abandon ship! Wave the white flag!”

“What?”

“Frances and I took a cruise once, to Europe. I damn near died, sick as a dog, fever of a hundred and twenty almost. Abandon ship, that’s what you do. Fire her. Fire your wife. Get someone else before it’s too late. Get Lucille Ball—a perfect Scarlett—and she’s got red hair! I can get Lucille Ball for you, she owes me. Look, kid, let me be straight with you. Betsy Rand is already as great a actress as Katharine Hepburn and Loretta Young and Margaret Sullavan. Even Bette David. You use her in Gone With the Wind—and even if the movie is crap, which it won’t be because it already is—she will be as good, as immortal as, I don’t know, Miriam Hopkins! Once you release it, nobody will even remember Vivien Leigh, not to mention Lester Howard. You know—my wife’s last name was Howard before I married her. Which in a way makes my son a Howard. And he married Jennifer Howard, the daughter of my number one writer, Lindsay Howard—who just happened to write Gone With the Wind for Selznick, plus a whole bunch of things for me. I think Leslie Howard got into the movie because he was a Howard! Now Sammy’s even got a few pictures under his belt, like he’s a real producer. Yeah, he’s real all right! He didn’t learn anything from me. His pictures are crap, mostly, but not all of them. He’s going to lose his ass. So, listen, I know what I’m talking about. It’s all inbreeding. You couldna picked a better dodge—like I told Jean Negulesco, the secret is, you wanna be a great producer, get yourself a great story. Then get the best writer available. Then you get the best director. Then you hire a first-class cast, the right cast, and a great cameraman. It’s the only way, I mean it. You already got Trend DeBrine. I hadda put up with Billy Wilder and Willie Wyler—they were both geniuses, but they were a pain in the ass. I didn’t know if I was wily or wilder! Hah! So go ahead, make your movie. Pull out all the stops, just like Selznick thought he did—God, I loved that guy! But don’t come crying to me when Betsy Rand don’t need you no more. She’s gonna take off after your picture skyrockets, just like Eddie Kaye did after ‘Christian Anderson’ went ballistic. Just remember that Vera Zorina ran off with Balanchine when she didn’t think she needed me anymore. Same thing’s gonna happen to you. You pull this off you’re gonna want to make more movies. You’ll have to. It’ll get in your blood—but you’re gonna have to find other actresses. Betsy Rand’s gonna tell you to get lost. I know. It happened to me. Frances Goldwyn’s the only one who stuck with me. Go get my son—tell him I need to go home. Besides, I gotta pee.”

The final scene was shot at MGM a few days later. After two rehearsals and lighting checks, it picked up as Scarlett stood staring out the door, where Rhett had vanished into the fog. DeBrine cut to Betsy full face, sad and distraught, tears welling and lightly caressing her cheeks as she spoke:

“I can’t let him go! I can’t! . . There must be . . . some way to bring him back! . . . I—can’t think about that now. I’ll go crazy if I do! I’ll think about it—tomorrow.” She closed the door, softly, and in the dim, somber light the colorful stained glass panels in the door were a brief focal point. Beginning to sob again, she moved across the vestibule toward the wide staircase where the candles on the fennel posts gleamed. “I must think about it—I must!” She collapsed in the stairs, sobbing harder, more desperate sobs. “What is there to do? What is it that matters?” Now prone on the stairs, her face buried in her arms—the voices. . . . Pa O’Hara—Ashley—Rhett—hollow and ghost-like, snuck in, hushed at first, then louder, more distinct, repeating over and over: “ . . . tell me that Tara doesn’t mean anything to you?—land, the only thing that lasts!” “Tara, the only thing you love better than me!” “It’s where you get your strength—Tara!” “Tara!” “Tara!” “Tara!” . . . As they spoke, Scarlett’s head came up, the camera framed a TCU, head and shoulders—Scarlett looked off into the distance, the sobbing stopped, her face and eyes glistened with spent tears, now worthless, wasted grief, perhaps the realization of a wasted life; but her countenance was mysteriously resurrected with hope and—determination: New. Fresh. Energetic.

“Tara! . . . Home! . . I want to go home! I’ll think of some way to get him back! . . . After all, tomorrow—is another day!”

Mesmerized, the shot held longer than necessary, Wally and DeBrine finally shouted out simultaneously: “Cut! . . . Print!”

In the last edit, many weeks later, it was there, behind the prelapsarian panorama very similar to the film’s opening montage, that the music, composed and conducted by Leonard Bernstein, whispered from the smoke of a distant past, built in volume and intensity as the scene cleared and the future began to take shape. . . . Then it grew to a heart-swelling crescendo that continued upward to the point it was nearly unbearable—and across the screen slid the words

THE END

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